September 28, 2020

Maine Fish and Game’s Comments to USFWS on Process of Incidental Take Permit for Canada Lynx

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Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
Comments on the Issuance of a 10(a)(1)(B) Permit for the Incidental Take of the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis)

Associated with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Incidental Take Plan for Maine’s Regulated Trapping Program

Prepared by
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

6 February 2012

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) shares concern and responsibility for maintaining a sustainable population of Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) in Maine with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). IFW’s commitment to lynx conservation is longstanding and pre-dates the federal listing of lynx as a Threatened Species under the federal Endangered Species Act. This includes closing the hunting and trapping seasons and ending the bounty on lynx in 1967, considering whether lynx warranted endangered or threatened status under Maine’s Endangered Species Act as early as the mid-1980s, conducting systematic snow-track surveys for lynx beginning in 1994, and collaborating with the USFWS in 1998 to start a lynx radiotelemetry project in Maine.

Our Department’s 12-year radiotelemetry study and the companion lynx and snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) studies at the University of Maine provided the USFWS with the best data on lynx demographics and habitat use in the eastern US. Although changes in forest management practices and climate change add to the uncertainty in predicting future lynx population trends, IFW will continue to work with the USFWS for the conservation of lynx. IFW’s Incidental Take Plan is only one aspect of our agency’s commitment to lynx conservation and management.

In the USFWS’ 2000 Determination of Status for the Canada Lynx (pp 16078-16079), the Service states, “Although we are concerned about the loss of lynx that are incidentally captured, we have no information to indicate that the loss of these individuals has negatively affected the overall ability of the contiguous United States DPS to persist. Additionally, we believe that lynx have been incidentally trapped throughout the past, and still they persist throughout most of their historic range.” We submit that the persistence of lynx in Maine, through periods of poor habitat and relatively heavy furbearer trapping pressure, and the subsequent growth of the lynx population in Maine, underscores the Service’s conclusion in their 2000 listing document — the incidental trapping of lynx has not had a detrimental effect on the lynx population.

Maine’s radiotelemetry study on lynx provided detailed information on the survival rates of lynx that were captured with foothold traps and subsequently radiocollared and monitored. During this 12-year study there were virtually no significant injuries to lynx from foothold traps, with the exception of one accidental entanglement of an anchoring chain and foothold trap which resulted in a fractured leg. While lynx incidentally caught in “killer-type” traps, such as Conibears, have a higher probability of killing or injuring a lynx, the overall risk of these traps to lynx is quite low when they are set according to regulations. Trapper effort surveys indicate that Conibears have been set for fisher and marten in northern Maine for approximately 600,000 traps nights without catching a lynx. Only Conibears that were not set according to current regulations have killed or injured lynx.

Lynx numbers have recovered in Maine while regulated trapping occurred in Maine and in abutting provinces and states. Because of the rarity of lynx sightings in Maine in the ’80s and ’90s one of the original objectives of Maine’s radiotelemetry study was to verify whether there was a breeding population of lynx in the state. Today, with an estimate of over 1,200 adult lynx in northern Maine, it is not uncommon to see lynx tracks. In addition, as of 2011, lynx were confirmed to be breeding in New Hampshire and eastern Maine. We suggest that questions regarding the impact of trapping on lynx, when lynx densities are low, can be answered by looking at the persistence of lynx in Maine over the last 50 years and the growth of their population. Throughout this period Maine trappers were actively pursuing furbearers. Trapping license sales in 1980 were more than double of what they are today, and yet lynx persisted and prospered. All evidence clearly indicates that lynx populations are compatible with a regulated furbearer trapping program.

Regulated trapping may have benefits for lynx that outweigh the negative aspect of incidental take. As referenced in Maine’s Incidental Take Plan, IFW’s radiotelemetry study determined that 50% (27/53) of natural lynx mortalities were due to predation, primarily by fisher (Martes pennanti), i.e., 17 confirmed cases and 10 cases of strong field-evidence indicating predation by fisher (manuscript in preparation). In the core of Maine’s lynx range (WMDs 1-11) the annual number of fisher taken by trappers has ranged from 523 to 1,276 from 1999 to 2010. Fisher, along with marten (Martes americana), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), and coyote (Canis latrans) are the principal targets of upland trappers in Maine. Each of these species also directly or indirectly competes with lynx for prey items. Given the low mortality rate that is expected for incidentally-trapped lynx — perhaps one every 5 years — it is likely that Maine’s lynx population fairs better with trapping than without.

Although the impact of incidental trapping on the lynx population appears to be negligible, IFW will continue to be proactive and innovative with protective regulatory measures for lynx. The Department has already collaborated with Maine trappers to develop and test an exclusion device for Conibears that effectively excludes lynx but allows the capture of smaller target furbearers such as marten and fisher. If lynx continue to expand their range in Maine, IFW will continue to expand its protections spatially, as is evident in the changes to Maine’s 2011 trapping regulations.

We conclude that lynx mortalities that may result from incidental trapping will not affect the growth rate of Maine’s lynx population and that the rate of these mortalities will continue to be minimized to the maximum extent practicable. Following finalization of the Lynx Assessment and subsequent Public Working Group meetings, it is IFW’s intent to develop a Lynx Management System that will provide protocols for monitoring the lynx population. IFW plans to work with the USFWS and researchers at the University of Maine to develop best management practices for forest landowners. Forest management practices that encourage conifer regeneration favorable for snowshoe hare and lynx can be promoted on both public and private lands within the realm of Maine’s Forest Practices Act.

Public sentiment for lynx conservation in Maine is strong. During the three public meetings on Maine’s Incidental Take Plan, trappers clearly supported the conservation of lynx and demonstrated that they are the aspect of the human environment most affected by the IFW’s proposed Incidental Take Plan. The Department has and will continue to extend protections to conserve lynx in Maine. The lynx is, and will continue to be, a cherished part of Maine’s natural heritage, as dictated by the mission of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

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