On January 11 of this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intent to begin the process to remove Endangered Species Act protections for imperiled Canada lynx in the contiguous U.S, thereby using its power as a federal agency to deny protection to one of nature’s most incredible and solitary creatures, one whose very existence is under siege by an ever-growing human population and the consequences of what passes for current civilization – climate change, logging, development, motorized access, and trapping and hounding, with these last two activities still legal in Maine for bobcats, a similar animal sometimes mistaken for a lynx.
If there were an award for excellence in animal design or if one needed proof that a cosmic intelligence is evident in the natural world, the physical beauty, stealth, gracefulness, coordination, and regal appearance would eminently qualify this reclusive denizen of the deep woods.
The Canada lynx is a medium-sized cat characterized by its long ear tufts, flared facial ruff, and short, bobbed tail with a completely black tip. It has unusually large paws that act like snowshoes in very deep snow, thick fur and long legs, and its hind legs are longer than its front legs, giving lynx a stooped appearance.
Canada lynx look similar to bobcats, but among the distinguishing features, bobcats have shorter legs and smaller feet than lynx. Perhaps the biggest distinction is that lynx mostly occur only in northern states along the Canadian border or in mountainous regions, while bobcats range across almost the entire Lower 48 states. And lynx have two incredible assets that many humans would like to share if they could: in addition to remarkable eyesight, they also have phenomenal hearing that’s enhanced by the tufts of hair at the top of their ears.
Why is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to delist Canada lynx a concern? For one thing, it’s a radical departure from the Service’s December 2016 draft, which outlined the persistent threats and pointed to an increased need for protection. For another, there’s an apparent confusion shared by the USFWS and the current administration about the difference between protection and politics.
After all, it was the present Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke – who on his first day in office – overturned a ban on lead in ammunition and fishing tackle on federal lands . Let’s not forget that lead is a proven neurotoxin that accumulates in soft tissues and bones, damaging the nervous system and causing brain disorders and, in mammals, blood disorders. That impacts us and the environment, including plants, animals and just about all life on the planet. It was the first decision among many that put a partisan agenda ahead of science.
Removing Canada lynx from the Endangered Species Act suggests that the population has recovered, but how do we know that? According to the USFWS, the best estimates for the number of Canada lynx in Northern Maine is 1000. Personally, a figure as suspiciously round as that makes me dubious. It as, after all, an estimate that could be high or low, but it’s unlikely that it’s exact, nor do we know how that number was reached.
But here’s a thought. What if – aside from the mortality to which we are all subject – we could eliminate or at least drastically reduce the threats that Canada lynx face so that they are no longer Endangered?
-We’d preserve the wilderness by enjoying those places on their own terms without human intrusion and impact. We’d be safeguarding these rare and dwindling habitats that comprise some of the most pristine areas remaining in the U.S. and protecting the lynx who live there.
-Because of the pressure of our increasing population on land that’s the home of lynx and other animals, we’d restrict human ‘development’ and encroachment.
-We’d prohibit the hunting of lynx by any means, but especially by hounding and trapping (of lynx and bobcats and bears and coyotes and all others) because no living creatures should be chased to death or held captive in the steel jaws of a trap until a human kills it.
And, what if, through information and education, we’d start beginning to change the mindset that causes some humans to see a trophy – a pelt for the fur market, a rug for the floor, a head mounted over the mantle – while others see the epitome of form and function, a moving tribute to the creator’s art, bounding perhaps over untrammelled snow, a fleeting vision to be savored and likely remembered for a lifetime.
It’s an opportunity to learn or learn again that saving life is more rewarding than destroying it, that protection and preservation have great benefits for the globe as well as for all who inhabit it, and that ‘live and let live’ should not be just an empty phrase.
Don Loprieno is a published author and has maintained a life-long interest in education and history. He lives in Bristol, Maine where he is active in community affairs. Don is a frequent contributor to a radio program called Into the Wilderness broadcast Tuesday evenings from 8-8:30 on WMPG FM 90.9.