The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reversed a 2006 decision and announced today that nearly 10,000 square miles of northern Maine forestland will be protected as critical habitat for Canada lynx.
The ruling, to be published in the Federal Register Wednesday, means that any activity in that area that requires a federal permits will trigger a review of potential effects on lynx habitat. The cat is considered a threatened species under federal law. Maine is the only eastern state with a breeding population.
The land included in the designated area is owned primarily by large timber companies, which as a group pressured the agency to exclude them from the critical habitat zone and proposed instead a separate habitat protection agreement.
Only a small area of Maine forestlands, much of it owned by the Passamaquoddy Tribe or conservationists, was excluded from the new habitat designation because those lands already were covered by established protection agreements.
In 2006, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a decision excluding all of Maine’s privately owned timberlands from the critical habitat zone, sparking lawsuits by conservation groups. A federal investigation found that a political appointee in the Bush administration interfered with the agency’s scientific review, which led to her resignation and the agency’s decision to start the review process over again.
In total, approximately 39,000 square miles fall within the boundaries of the new critical habitat designation in the states of Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington. The 9,497 square miles of designated habitat in Maine includes portions of Aroostook, Franklin, Penobscot, Piscataquis, and Somerset Counties.
The new layer of regulation is not expected to affect timber harvesting at all. It could come into play when landowners seek federal wetland permits for new roads or development, although federal officials have said the activity would have to eliminate a significant portion of the habitat area to be deemed a threat. For more information regarding this finding and Canada lynx, go to http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/lynx/.