April 05, 2020

On lynx and lawsuits

In a recent editorial, the Bangor Daily News chastised Maine’s industrial forest landowners for our efforts to remove our lands from the federal Canada Lynx Critical Habitat (CH) designation. While the facts of your article are basically correct, it is important that people understand why we are requesting that our lands be removed from CH.

In short, we are not willing to roll over and accept the seemingly innocuous critical habitat designation on our lands when we have valid scientific information that it is not necessary, and when the Endangered Species Act states that our lands should be exempt from such designations when they do not require special management to protect species.

Being good editors, you have chosen your words carefully, but the devil is in the details, which, in this case, involves a closer look at your carefully chosen qualifiers.

For example, you point out that “In other instances when federal officials have granted exemptions (to CH), they have usually been overturned in court.” But not always. The courts have ordered the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to propose CH, and that is where we are now. The Endangered Species Act (ESA), however, states that areas that do not require special management considerations or protection are appropriate for exclusion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act.

Based on the best scientific evidence supported by research conducted by the University of Maine’s Cooperative Forestry Research Unit and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, we believe our lands do not require special management or protection to provide lynx habitat and, therefore, do not meet the requirements for CH designation.

We believe that active forest management and timber harvesting, both current and past, have produced the landscape scale habitat that has benefited lynx populations. Moreover, to help monitor lynx habitat, we have produced and shared maps with the USFWS and have volunteered to periodically update habitat maps to share with them in the years ahead.

Further in the editorial you state, “They’re (landowners) right that the designation makes official another layer of bureaucratic review. That review, however, rarely takes place.” So, if, according to the latest science the designation is not necessary, and if the potential review rarely takes place, why is an additional burden on landowners and forest products businesses necessary or justified at all?

Your final troubling qualifier asks why landowners are, “…fighting a designation that isn’t likely to make much difference in the woods where lynx live.” While we agree that on the face of it, CH designation of our lands is not likely to make a difference in our land management, let’s remember how we arrived at this point in the first place.

Environmental groups in the western US wanted to change forestry on National Forests by asserting that lynx are dependent on old growth forests. They petitioned USFWS to list the lynx as endangered. USFWS declined, saying lynx did not meet the criteria, so the environmental groups took them to federal court, which demanded that USFWS list the lynx. After listing, USFWS did not designate CH for lynx, stating it would serve no purpose. As a result, the process involving the environmental groups and the court was repeated.

The question is, why should private landowners in the eastern US be subject to the concerns of environmentalists who are focusing on federal land management policies in the west? Simply because we have lynx, which, by the way, seem to be doing quite well in our actively managed forests! A further irony is that all National Forest lands, some BLM and several tribal lands have already been exempted from CH designation.

Landowners have no concern in dealing with lynx ecology. We have worked cooperatively with MEIFW and USFWS to learn a great deal about lynx biology since the species was listed as threatened in 2000. We have financially supported research as well as provided logistics, air photos and maps. Lynx management can be integrated into our harvesting plans and, as we learn more, new information can be incorporated as well. Our concern rests with groups who would abuse the ESA and use the courts to achieve their ends. While current provisions of CH might not seem onerous, what if future re-writes of the ESA change the conditions associated with CH?

As you can see landowners need to balance those pesky little qualifying words “usually”, “rarely” and “isn’t likely” with the words “could happen” or “might happen”. It is unfortunate your editorial did not chastise the groups who started this mess in the courtroom, rather than the landowners who are successfully managing lynx habitat but are still required to deal with the politics that have resulted from these misguided rulings.

We agree with you, let’s keep the focus on the lynx and not on the politics of various factions.

Barry Burgason is a certified wildlife biologist with Huber Resources Corp. and Chairman of the Maine Forest Products Council’s Wildlife Committee.

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