Consent Decree in Endangered Species Act Lawsuit Protects Lynx
Bangor, ME — The Animal Protection Institute (API) today announced a consent decree has been signed in its suit against the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (IF&W) to stop the agency from continuing to violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by allowing trappers to use traps that catch, injure and sometimes kill threatened and endangered species, such as lynx. The consent decree was signed by United States District Judge John A. Woodcock, Jr.. in Bangor, Maine.
“We are very excited about the outcome of this lawsuit; it sends a strong message to other states that body gripping traps should be prohibited,“ says Nicole Paquette, Esq., API’s Director of Legal and Government Affairs. “The state will now have to abide by specific guidelines in protecting imperiled Canada lynx in its core habitat.”
The lawsuit was filed after API discovered that Canada lynx have been captured and sometimes seriously injured or killed in body-gripping traps set for other species. In Maine, at least six threatened Canada lynx were caught in traps in 2006 alone.
Under the ESA, killing, injuring or trapping species listed as threatened or endangered constitutes a “take,” and is illegal absent an exemption from the federal government. According to API’s suit, Commissioner Roland “Dan” Martin has been illegally causing takes of lynx by licensing trapping in northern Maine.
The terms of the consent decree include:
- most uses of certain body-gripping leghold traps in core lynx habitat are banned;
- restrictions must be maintained on the use of “killer-type” traps, cage traps, snares and bait;
- IF&W must operate a telephone hotline during trapping season to receive reports of incidentally trapped lynx;
- IF&W must rehabilitate lynx injured from trapping;
- incidental lynx takes must be reported to API and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Commissioner Martin is no less responsible for complying with the Endangered Species Act than the trapper who sets the trap,” said Bruce Merrill, an attorney for API. “State officials cannot regulate in a way that causes takes of threatened and endangered species. The Endangered Species Act trumps state law.”
Commissioner Martin will be subject to the consent decree until the Canada lynx has sufficiently recovered to be removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act, or until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife itself regulates IF&W’s trapping program by permit or regulation.
API v. Martin is believed to be the first successful Endangered Species Act lawsuit filed in Maine, and the first “take” lawsuit to result in a restriction on trapping.
API is represented by Bruce Merrill of Portland, Maine, David Nicholas of Newton, Massachusetts, and Jay Tutchton of the Environmental Law Clinic Partnership at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law.
The Animal Protection Institute is a national non-profit animal advocacy organization working to end animal cruelty and exploitation through legislation, litigation, and public education. More information is available at www.api4animals.org.
Nicole Paquette, API, 916-622-7170
Bruce Merrill, Esq., 207-775-3333
David Nicholas, Esq., 617-964-1548
Fact Sheet on Consent Decree in
Animal Protection Institute V. Roland Martin
Plaintiff — Animal Protection Institute (API)
Defendant — Roland D. Martin, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W)
Intervenors — U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation, National Trappers Association, Maine Trappers Association, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Fur Takers of America and three individuals. The intervenors joined the lawsuit on the side of Commissioner Martin.
Highlights of consent decree terms
In core lynx habitat, the use of all foothold traps (also known as leghold traps) that have an inside jaw spread of more than 5 3/8 inches is prohibited, except in limited circumstances. This provision essentially bans foothold traps sized “No. 2” and larger. Most reported incidental trapping of lynx have been in these traps.
Commissioner Martin must keep in place a regulation providing that except under limited circumstances, killer-type (Conibear) traps in core lynx habitat must be set at least four feet above ground or snow level, and be affixed to a pole or tree that is at an angle of 45̊ or greater to the ground and that is no greater than 4 inches in diameter at 4 feet above the ground or snow level. Lynx have difficulty climbing to such a trap. IF&W enacted the regulation after API sued Commissioner Martin.
In core lynx habitat, cage traps which have an opening of more than 13 inches in width or more than 13 inches are prohibited. This size restriction is designed to keep lynx out of cage traps. An exception is made for wildlife research and survey activities, removal of animals that are causing damage to property, and bear capture.
In core lynx habitat, the current ban on snares for any purpose other than to catch beaver and bear must be continued unless and until IF&W receives permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use snares. IF&W stopped authorizing the use of snares after animal advocates threatened to sue State officials for violating the Endangered Species Act, because snares have caught lynx and Bald eagles.
IF&W must operate a telephone hotline during trapping season to receive reports of incidentally trapped lynx.
IF&W must rehabilitate lynx injured from trapping.
Incidental lynx takes must be reported to API and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Expiration of Consent Decree terms
Commissioner Martin is relieved of his obligations under the Consent Decree only if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues Maine’s trapping program a final Incidental Take Permit, or if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service promulgates a nationwide rule (known as a “4(d) Rule”) addressing the incidental trapping of lynx. The Consent Decree would also expire if Canada lynx are removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act.