August 24, 2008

Zealots Are Back Litigating the Lynx

When it comes to American wildlife management, there are two worlds. The first world is the logical, practical one in which trained biologists in fish and wildlife departments around the country monitor wildlife populations, set hunting quotas for game animals, study habitat and establish methods of protecting non-game species, etc.

The other world of game management is the illogical, inscrutable, political one that takes place in the courtroom.

In Maine, and some other states with lynx populations, the lynx, which is a federally-protected species, has become the focal point of unrelenting litigation between animal-rights organizations and state natural-resource departments.

In fact, the litigation over the lynx has evolved from the annoying to the absurd. In each and every case, one of a parade of extremist animal-rights organizations has kept wildlife managers preoccupied with courtroom defense strategies. Repeatedly using the Endangered Species Act as a legal fulcrum, groups like the Animal Protection Institute are conducting a legal masquerade. API claims to be concerned about the welfare of the lynx, when in fact it is determined to be an instrument for the total banning of trapping throughout the country.

Facts and science don't count for much. Never mind that Maine's lynx population has recovered and is ripe for delisting from the ESA. As long as the lynx is listed, the animal-rights zealots will exploit the ESA and use it to prevail in court. Last year, the state settled out of court a suit that was brought by API. Trappers lost some ground, but at least they were still in business. The ink on the settlement is barely dry, and the litigation zealots are back. The Wildlife Alliance of Maine and the Animal Welfare Institute have filed yet another lawsuit against the state, asserting that not enough has been done to protect the lynx from trappers. (Since the settlement, trappers reportedly trapped eight lynx incidentally, and all were released unharmed).

At first blush, you might think that this suit is being brought by a different organization. Look more closely. You'll find, as Maine's natural resource director Ken Elowe noted, "Different organizational names, but the same personalities." Which raises a question: In last year's federal court settlement in Bangor, why didn't Maine's Attorney General secure language in the deal that would have prohibited the plaintiffs from suing again for a designated period of time? Talk about frivolous litigation.

Coincidentally, similar litigation in Minnesota this past June brought by the API did not result in a ban on trapping. A federal court judge ruled that that state's management plan for lynx was adequate and that trapping could continue. Translation: API did not get its way in Minnesota so it's back in Maine. A reasonable question might then be: Why can't Maine's fish and wildlife department simply adopt the Minnesota lynx management plan as a model, and be done with it?

Nope. You guessed it. It is too simple and too logical. The lynx litigation game doesn't work that way. Ken Elowe says that the Minnesota case is deceiving, that the trappers prevailed, but are subject to more restrictions than Maine trappers. He wants to see this thing through. "Ultimately, we want our (lynx protection) plan to have the full support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and we are working in that direction. We hope to submit our final version of our Incidental Take Permit to USFWS this week." said Elowe.

If you think that my characterization of the animal-rights zealots and their motives is unfair, consider this. The recovery of the bald eagle is irrefutable and the feds are seeking to delist the eagle from the ESA, a move that is long overdue. But guess what? The same animal rights operatives are fighting the delisting of the bald eagle and are threatening USFWS with another suit.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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