AUGUSTA – Maine wildlife officials rushed through new rules Thursday intended to help keep Canada lynx out of sportsmen’s traps and the state out of hot water with the federal courts.
The advisory council of the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife approved the temporary rules roughly one week after a federal judge said he was perplexed why the state wasn’t moving faster to address an apparent problem.
On Nov. 17, a lynx was found dead in a trap that had been set for other animals in Aroostook County. Lynx are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The trapper was not charged with killing the protected wildcat because biologists and wardens determined he thought he was complying with state regulations on trapping in lynx territory. The trapper also promptly reported the incident to authorities.
DIF&W officials agreed to clarify the rules by the 2009 trapping season. But U.S. District Judge John Woodcock, who is hearing a lawsuit over lynx trappings, ordered the state to fix the rules before the current season ends on Dec. 31.
The emergency rules approved Thursday clarify that trappers may set only so-called Conibear traps on trees no larger than 4 inches in diameter and at least four feet from any other larger trees, poles, other objects or banks.
Additionally, any small leaning trees or leaning poles used with Conibear traps – also known as “body-gripper” or “killer-type” traps – must be at least 45 degrees to the ground at all points.
The new rules presume that most lynx will not attempt to climb smaller trees or poles or leap more than 4 feet to reach bait left for fisher, marten or other species.
The lynx found dead last month apparently climbed a larger tree that was standing inches away from the trap and became ensnared when it reached into the trap.
Commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin praised trappers for working with the state to fix the rules. The Maine Trappers Association had supported the clarification.
It was clear Thursday evening, however, that the quick fix will not end the state’s legal trouble with two wildlife advocacy organizations. Nor are group members convinced the clarifications will prevent future deaths or injuries among the 500 or so lynx believed to inhabit Maine.
“We believe the emergency rules are a farce,” said Camilla Fox, wildlife consultant with the Animal Welfare Institute. “I know of no other state that has such complicated regulations regarding Conibear traps. And if the trappers were perplexed by the [prior] regulations, they will be utterly confused now.”
Fox said the rules are so complicated that trappers would have to be trained on what is a legal or illegal trap. She also pointed out that the state did not change the current five-day time limit for trappers to check their Conibear traps in the Unorganized Territory. Five days is too long to ensure a trapped animal can be released alive, she said.
The Wildlife Alliance of Maine and the Animal Welfare Institute allege DIF&W is violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing trapping practices that ensnare lynx. Eight lynx were reported caught in leghold traps last year. All eight were released alive,
Woodcock denied the groups’ request for a temporary injunction seeking wider restrictions on trapping in Maine until the state receives a special permit from federal authorities. That court case continues.
In the meantime DIF&W has applied – again – for a federal “incidental take permit” to protect the state legally when a lynx is caught or killed by otherwise legal trapping.
“Once we get the incidental take permit, that will [shield] the department from future lawsuits,” Christopher Taub with the Attorney General’s Office told the council. “But until then, there is going to be the potential for additional lawsuits.”