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Lynx forest cats get more 'critical habitat'

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pushed by a lawsuit in federal court, moved Thursday to designate additional federal land as critical habitat for lynx, although not in Minnesota.

The reclusive forest cat — listed as federally threatened in Minnesota, Maine, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming — would get an additional 632 square miles of protected habitat in Maine and Wyoming under the proposal. That’s in addition to the already designated 39,000 square miles across those six states where it is confirmed. Lynx advocacy groups had sued, saying the cat needed more undeveloped land to thrive.

The critical habitat designation requires land managers to consider lynx habitat before making any land-use decision, such as allowing development or deciding how to log tracts of forests.

In Minnesota, about 3,546 square miles in portions of Cook, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis counties already have been designated critical lynx habitat. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area. It does not force government or public access onto private lands.

Only areas where lynx are known to roam have been included. And only when the federal government has business on state, county or private land — such as federally funded highway, development or state wildlife projects — would the habitat designation have an impact.

Lynx were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2000, when they were listed as threatened throughout their range in the contiguous U.S. The Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat for the species in 2006 and revised the designation in 2009 to include habitat in six northern states. The current proposal includes most of the areas designated in 2009, as well as additional private timber lands in northern Maine and federal land in northwestern Wyoming.

Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until Dec. 26.

John Myers | Forum News Service

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