Federal agency declines emergency listing, adds cats to long list of candidate species, but plans to revise listing to include New Mexico population
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Rare lynx that have from Colorado into northern New Mexico are in legal limbo, as biologists acknowledge that they deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act, but put off a decision to protect New Mexico lynx under the federal conservation law.
A number of lynx that were transplanted to Colorado between 1999 and 2006 have roamed southward into New Mexico, where they have established what may be a permanent presence. The cats may even be breeding in the spruce-fir forests of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced recently that it will withhold protection under the Endangered Species Act because it has more pressing issues.
At present, lynx are protected elsewhere in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act, but are stripped of their protections once they enter the mountains of northern New Mexico. In 2007, Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center filed a petition on behalf of a conservation group, asking the Fish and Wildlife Service to extend legal protection to New Mexico.
“We’re certainly pleased the Service recognized the need to protect lynx in New Mexico,” Bishop said. “That said, it took over two years for the Service to come to this realization and now, because of a ‘limited budget they need an additional two years — perhaps longer — to simply redraw the lynx’s protective boundary in the Southern Rockies. This is absurd.”
In the decision, published in the Federal Register, the agency said it will add New Mexico lynx to a list of candidate species and develop an amendment to the original listing that would include the lynx living in New Mexico. The agency rejected an option for an emergency listing.
“Based on the population status and alleged threats described in the petition, we found no evidence to support emergency listing in New Mexico,” the agency wrote in its finding.
At least 14 lynx have been killed in New Mexico due to shooting, vehicle collisions, starvation, and unknown causes. Given the high mortality for lynx traveling in New Mexico, federal protections for lynx in New Mexico are critical to their long-term survival, according to Nicole Rosmarino, a conservation biologist with WildEarth Guardians.
The national listing program has reached an all-time low, with only 2 new U.S. species listed thus far in the Obama administration’s first year in office. In the recent decision, the Service assigned lynx in New Mexico to the end of a line of approximately 330 species formally awaiting protection.