Idaho faces lawsuit over inadvertent lynx trapping

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Five environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the state of Idaho over inadvertent trapping of federally protected Canada lynx.

The groups contend the state is violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing recreational trapping that inadvertently ensnares lynx.

Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians and Western Environmental Law Center say the state needs an "incidental take" permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for recreational trapping to continue.

The permit would only be issued if officials determine it's needed for trapping other animals, like bobcats, and that occasionally catching a lynx wouldn't harm the overall population.

Canada lynx, a rarely seen predator that feeds primarily on snowshoe hares, are a threatened species believed to number in the hundreds in the continental U.S. It's unclear how many are in Idaho.

"Idaho can't just ignore federal law and go on condoning the trapping of this rare and magnificent cat," Amy Atwood, with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a written release.

The groups want the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to develop a conservation plan that would include restrictions on body-crushing and steel-jaw traps and snares, and reporting requirements in lynx habitats. They also want a daily trap check requirement throughout lynx habitat.

The groups said an increase in the popularity of trapping, with nearly 2,000 licenses issued in 2012-2013, is part of the reason an incidental take permit is needed. The area in question extends north from central Idaho to the border with Canada, as well as parts of eastern Idaho.

"Idaho officials need to understand that a healthy Idaho population of this mountain cat is critical, not just to lynx survival here, but across the western United States," said Travis Bruner, executive director of the Western Watershed Project, said in a written statement. "We have to maintain a healthy breeding mix between Rockies and Canadian populations, and Idaho sits at the crossroads."

Jon Hanian, a spokesman for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, said that his office hadn't yet seen the lawsuit but wouldn't comment on pending litigation.

In the last two years in Idaho, three lynx have been caught in traps intended for bobcats. One was killed after the trapper mistook it for a bobcat, and the two others were released.

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