Getting rid of the lynx problem

In case you missed this news a month ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to propose delisting Canada lynx.

The Canada lynx was listed as threatened in 2000 largely due to a lack of regulatory mechanisms on federal public lands, which is where a majority of the habitat for Canada lynx was believed to be located in the lower 48 states. Since receiving ESA protection, federal land managers throughout the lynx’s range have formally amended their management plans and implemented conservation measures to conserve the species. For example, all U.S. Forest Service land management plans in the Rocky Mountain region have been amended to include conservation measures for the Canada lynx.

The recommendation was informed by a recently completed, peer-reviewed Species Status Assessment for the lynx, which compiled and evaluated the best available scientific information on the historical, current and possible future conditions for the Canada lynx. Over a two-year process, the Service worked closely with federal, state and academic subject matter experts to evaluate relevant scientific information on snowshoe hare population dynamics, climate change, forest ecology and other issues. Although climate change remains an important factor for the conservation of the Canada lynx, neither the Service nor the experts we consulted conclude that the lynx is at risk of extinction from climate change within the foreseeable future.

That last sentence may be the most important.  The Trump Administration has been revisiting and redefining what “foreseeable future” means.  They basically seem to be saying that the main thing that has changed is that they no longer think extinction is predictable enough to worry about yet.  There is also this motivation:

Given the outcome of this analysis, the Service will not at this time be completing a recovery plan for the Canada lynx.

Which was due in January.  Here and here are some other concerns.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it took another 18 years to get this through court, but by then extinction may be close enough to count.  And much as the Forest Service would like it to, delisting doesn’t mean they could remove the regulatory mechanisms that contributed to delisting.  If delisting happens, it would be worth recognizing this as a payoff for good forest planning, and as a model for future plans involving listed or potentially listed species.

17 thoughts on “Getting rid of the lynx problem”

  1. Jon says, “The Trump Administration has been revisiting and redefining what ‘foreseeable future’ means. They basically seem to be saying that the main thing that has changed is that they no longer think extinction is predictable enough to worry about yet.”

    This might explain not only the Trump Administration’s approach to threatened and endangered species, but also Trump’s approach to nuclear warfare as well.

    Setting gallows humor aside, I didn’t understand the concluding comments: “If delisting happens, it would be worth recognizing this as a payoff for good forest planning, and as a model for future plans involving listed or potentially listed species.”

    Could you elaborate? Thanks.

    • One of the five ESA listing factors is “inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms” to protect the species. One of the benefits of forest plans is that they can be cited by the listing agencies as “adequate regulatory mechanisms.” That is if their plan components are sufficiently regulatory. The listing agencies need to see certainty of implementation and effectiveness. In practice, this has meant forest plan standards, and the lynx amendments in the northern and southern Rockies were designed to serve this purpose. (Another example, endorsed by a federal court, is the plan amendments used in delisting the Yellowstone grizzly bear. Another similar effort was the sage grouse amendments of BLM and FS plans that was used by the FWS to justify not listing that species.) The Planning Rule requires plan components to conserve proposed and candidate species, which means to avoid having to list them, so plans should include a conservation strategy with required components, like the lynx amendments.

      The lynx amendments were actually developed at the same time that the listing process was ongoing, but could not be completed in time to affect the listing decision. Ideally, the Forest Service should get ahead of the curve on species that are not yet proposed or candidates for listing. This is where species of conservation concern come in, so plans should include regulatory conservation strategies for them as well if they could be affected by management. (This may be necessary any way to meet the requirement to provide ecological conditions necessary to maintain a viable population of these species.)

      • Thanks, Jon. My minor piece in the SLRA was harassing people to write their sections, so I played a miniscule role (they too serve who bug people). So are those amendments “sufficient regulatory”? I thought that’s why we did them? Or is FWS thinking forests might change plans and do something different?
        In terms of what happens or doesn’t on the ground, would teams of folks come up with different “things to do to conserve lynx” now, than when we worked on the amendments? Or would folks have to start that kind of analysis all over again?

        • You can infer from the info provided by the FWS that they regard the amendments as now adequate. I think there was an understanding that these region-wide amendments could be changed when individual plans are revised, but the bigger the change the more new work would have to be done to justify it. The Flathead revision includes a fairly small change in a lynx standard.

          The advantage of big amendments like this is that the listing agencies like consistent, science-based approaches, and they can see the big picture better, so are more likely to say plans as a whole are good enough. In this case, there was a lot of work put into the lynx science on the front-end, and there would be a substantial burden to show a change in the science that warrants a change in a plan.

          • I agree that the regional amendments are the way to go. And the forests should mostly stick to them in revision. So given that, what is wrong with the current path and who is trying to change what? Are people trying to get lynx listed? Is the Trump Administration trying to get rid of the amendments?

  2. From the oped linked to in Jon’s post….

    “The truth is that FWS is only arguing that lynx should be delisted because of a court deadline this week that required that FWS finally, after 17 years of delay, produce a recovery plan for lynx. Rather than produce the court-ordered recovery plan by the deadline, FWS simply filed a document arguing that lynx no longer need any protections under the Endangered Species Act, and therefore FWS does not need to produce a recovery plan. This is a transparent attempt to evade the law.”


    • Jon, could you explain the difference between all that lynx work, public comments, analysis and discussions that led to the Lynx Amendments, and what is a “recovery plan”?

      All- here’s what Colorado DPW things (and lynx was reintroduced here, and its at the southern end of the range)

      “Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials are confident that Canada lynx in the state will not die out even if the Trump administration removes them from the endangered-species list.

      The move by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service toward delisting the species follows a report issued in the waning days of the Obama administration expressing confidence that the lynx would survive through 2050, but calling it “very unlikely” the species would survive until 2100.

      “Our efforts to recover the lynx population in Colorado has been really strong,” said Eric Odell, manager of the state’s lynx program. “Our population in Colorado is self-sustaining and naturally reproducing. We are confident that the population we have is stable.”

      The story of lynx recovery in Colorado began in 1999, when state wildlife officials released cats captured in Canada and Alaska into remote portions of the San Juan Mountains. A year later, the cousin of the bobcat was listed as threatened as logging, motorized vehicles and development invaded their habitat at a time when there were no federal regulations protecting them. In addition, the animals were being trapped for their fur.”

      Within a seven-year period, 218 cats were introduced to the area. The cats established breeding populations in the San Juans and expanded their range into Summit County and other parts of Colorado’s high country.

      In 2010, the state wildlife agency declared the lynx reintroduction a success. Today, they estimate that between 150 and 200 of the tufted-ear cats live in Colorado’s backcountry.

      Odell added that the efforts also included a review of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management’s regulatory mechanisms regarding the lynx. The protective mechanisms introduced during the review will stay in place even if the species is delisted, ensuring the longevity of healthy lynx populations, Odell said.

  3. A “recovery plan” is a requirement of ESA unless “the plan will not promote recovery of the species.” Recovery plans must incorporate, at a minimum:
    – a description of site-specific management actions necessary to achieve recovery of the species,
    – objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in a determination that the species be removed from the list; and
    -estimates of the time and costs required to achieve the plan’s goal

    They tend to get put off and sometimes have to be court ordered, which is what happened with lynx. They don’t actually have much legal force and are viewed more like recommendations to other agencies for how meet their requirements to carry out “programs for the conservation” of listed species. Because they are non-binding, they don’t require NEPA. They are prepared by “recovery teams” made up of “qualified persons” from any source. They do publish notices in the Federal Register.

    Forest plans (and amendments) are binding so require NEPA and general public involvement. The Planning Rule requirement to contribute to recovery of listed species should mean that a forest plan has components that are in or derived from a recovery plan where they exist. Forests can consult with the listing agencies for this purpose in accordance with §7(a)(1) of ESA (but this is different from the mandatory requirement of §7(a)(2) to consult on how to avoid jeopardy to the species or adverse modification of its critical habitat).

    Lynx did a good job of refilling their old niche in Colorado. The Forest Service seems to be interested in loosening up their protective measures as part of forest plan revisions there (contrary to what the state thinks).

  4. I’m to understand that the US Fish and Wildlife Service can list or delist species, i.e., the lynx, but also the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife can do the same, i.e. list the Marbled Murrelet?
    Who has the real authority?

    • Google is your friend Bob.

      See this link for more information, as well as hot-links to the info below:

      Threatened and Endangered Species

      The State of Oregon and the federal government maintain separate lists of Threatened and Endangered (T & E) species. These are species whose status is such that they are at some degree of risk of becoming extinct. Oregon species listed by the state and federal governments.

      Under State law (ORS 496.171-496.192) the Fish and Wildlife Commission through ODFW maintains the list of native wildlife species in Oregon that have been determined to be either “threatened” or “endangered” according to criteria set forth by rule (OAR 635-100-0105) (pdf).

      Plant listings are handled through the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

      Most invertebrate listings are handled through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center.

      Under federal law the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration share responsibility for implementing the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Public Law 93-205, 16 U.S.C. § 1531) (pdf), as amended. In general, USFWS has oversight for terrestrial and freshwater species and NOAA for marine and anadromous species. In addition to information about species already listed, the USFWS-Oregon Field Office maintains lists of candidate species and of Species of Concern.

      Additional information about the federal programs in place in Oregon can be found at the following websites:

      U.S. Fish and Wildlife-Oregon
      Northwest Region of NOAA-Fisheries

  5. Another article on lynx delisting that includes comments from the Fish and Wildlife Service revealing more of their rationale. (Definitely not the precautionary principle.)

    So even as the long-term outlook for lynx is bleak, Zelenak said that the Fish and Wildlife Service can’t rely on uncertain projections. “There’s just too much uncertainty in the potential impacts, the potential response of lynx to those impacts, and the projections of the experts,” he said. Instead, the decision to delist is based on what the agency has determined is the “foreseeable future” — the middle of the century, when projections for survival look pretty good.

    • It seems logical to me that if the mid-term outlooks are good (30 years?) then it makes sense to rerun the models at that point and not change management now (although I’m not sure what you’d do, given that the current protections are supposed to work for the next 30 years) based on model projections beyond that. You don’t have to be an expert on climate models to know that they will probably be refined in the next 30 years or so.

  6. Maybe, if there is no lag effect. It seems logical to me that if we don’t change what we are doing now that is causing their habitat to melt, it will be too late to do anything when population effects start showing up. (We can argue about whether ESA is the best tool to fight climate change, or how much we should worry about other factors that affect lynx less, but the listing decision can’t ignore what the best currently available science foresees. Unless they are making the case that the long term outlook really isn’t “bleak” but is unknown, and that is the change in position they’ll have to explain.)

  7. Here is a summary of a recent 9th Circuit opinion upholding the decision to list the ringed seal “based on evidence that snow cover is forecasted to decrease substantially throughout the species’ range and become inadequate for the formation and occupation of seal birth lairs within a century… The Ninth Circuit also ruled that NMFS’s reliance on climate change models projecting out to the year 2100 was not arbitrary and capricious because the Final Rule provided a reasonable and scientifically supported methodology for addressing volatility in its long-term climate projections and fairly represented the shortcomings of those projections.

    A case involving NMFS and seals is probably not a precedent for a case involving FWS and lynx, but I think it does make it harder for FWS to claim that the facts (to the extent they are the same) support a decision to delist lynx.

    • With all due respect to the 9th Circuit, how could they tell whether the “shortcomings of the long-term climate projects were fairly represented?”, or whether the methodology was “reasonable”?

  8. This is the job courts are asked to do; it’s basically what judicial “deference” to the agency amounts to. “Did the agency provide an explanation of why it did what it did (including how it used science), and does that make sense to a non-expert person?”

    • That’s a great point, if it’s as simple as that. My experience is that often what seems logical to me as an expert person is not what the court agrees with. Is that because of my bias, or the court’s bias?
      Here’s an experiment: bring in 50 random non-experts, (you could stratify by race, gender, education, etc.). Have them review the information and ask them if they agree with the agency, the plaintiff or the court and do interviews. It might be really interesting. Maybe I’ll start a crowdfunding campaign for NCFP research topics..


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