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Questions and Answers:
Revised Critical Habitat Designation for the Canada Lynx
1. What action is the Fish and Wildlife Service taking?
The Service is revising the critical habitat designation for the Canada lynx, a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Originally, the Service designated 1,841 square miles of critical habitat (Nov. 9, 2006) for the Canada lynx. In this revision, approximately 39,000 square miles of critical habitat fall within the boundaries of the revised designation in portions of northern Maine, northeastern Minnesota, the Northern Rocky Mountains (northwestern Montana and northeastern Idaho), the Northern Cascades (north-central Washington), and the Greater Yellowstone Area (southwestern Montana and northwestern Wyoming).
The Service originally designated 317 square miles of critical habitat in Minnesota; the revised designation includes about 8,065 square miles.
2. Where is the Canada lynx protected under the ESA?
The Canada lynx is protected as a threatened species wherever it occurs in the lower 48 states; resident populations currently occur in portions of Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming.
3. What is critical habitat?
Critical habitat is a term defined in the ESA. It identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management or protection or considerations.
Critical habitat is determined after taking into consideration the economic impact it could cause, as well as any other relevant impacts. The Secretary of the Interior may exclude any area from critical habitat if the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of inclusion, as long as the exclusion would not result in the extinction of the species.
4. How did the Service determine what lands should be designated as critical habitat for the Canada lynx?
When considering which lands should be designated as critical habitat, the Service used the best scientific data available as well as information from State, Federal and Tribal agencies and from academic and private organizations. Based on this information, we first determined which lands were essential to the conservation of the Canada lynx by defining the physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the species and delineating the specific areas that contain those features as well as recent verified records of lynx presence and reproduction. Next, we limited the designation to lands that may require special management.
All areas designated as critical habitat for the Canada lynx include boreal forest landscapes that provide one or more of the following beneficial habitat elements for the Canada lynx including snowshoe hares for prey, abundant large, woody debris piles that are used as dens, and winter snow conditions that are generally deep and fluffy for extended periods of time. All designated areas have recent verified records of lynx occurrence and reproduction and are considered occupied.
5. What areas have been designated as critical habitat for the Canada lynx?
Critical habitat has been designated in the following areas:
6. What areas of lynx habitat, that were included in the 2008 proposed revision, were not included in this final designation?
The Service excluded approximately 1,725 square miles of habitat from the 42,752 square miles that were proposed for this revised critical habitat designation. Those exclusions were based on peer review and public comments and biological information received during the comment period. Areas excluded are:
Critical habitat units designated for the lynx:
Approximately 58 percent of the designated critical habitat occurs on Federal lands and approximately 30 percent on private lands with the remaining areas under state or other ownership.
7. Were areas considered for exclusion, but not excluded?
Private timberlands were considered for exclusion, under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, in Maine and Montana based on conservation agreements that were drafted with the intent of conserving lynx and their habitat. We found that the benefits of inclusion outweighed the benefits of exclusion, because the agreements had not been finalized, the activities contained in them had not been implemented or firmly funded, and no activities for managing habitat were included.
8. Why did the Service revise the critical habitat designation for the Canada lynx?
The revised critical habitat designation for Canada lynx is the result of the Service’s review of certain Endangered Species Act actions that were alleged to have been inappropriately influenced by a former Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary.
9. Is the Canada lynx only protected in critical habitat areas?
No. All other protections afforded by the ESA apply to all populations of lynx within the range where listed, regardless of whether they inhabit designated critical habitat or not. Listed species, both inside and outside critical habitat, are protected from 'take,' which includes harming (e.g., shooting, killing, trapping, collecting) and harassing individual animals.
10. What are the benefits of a critical habitat designation?
Critical habitat provides non-regulatory benefits to the species by informing the public and private sectors of areas that are important for species recovery and where conservation actions would be most effective. Designation of critical habitat can help focus conservation activities for a listed species by identifying areas that contain the physical and biological features essential for the conservation of that species, and can alert the public and land-managing agencies to the importance of those areas. Critical habitat also identifies areas that may require special management considerations or protection, and may help provide protection to areas where significant threats to the species have been identified by helping people to avoid causing accidental damage to such areas.
11. Who could be affected by this critical habitat designation?
Federal agencies are required to consult with the Service on actions they carry out, fund, or authorize that might affect critical habitat. In most cases, consultation already occurs under the section 7 interagency consultation requirements of the ESA in the areas designated as critical habitat, as these areas are known to be occupied by lynx. Non-federal entities, including private landowners that may also be affected could include, for example, those seeking a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 404 permit under the Clean Water Act or those seeking federal funding to implement private property improvements, where such actions affect lands designated as critical habitat. But again, in most cases this is already occurring under the section 7 interagency consultation requirements of the Endangered Species Act.
12. How does a critical habitat designation affect private lands?
Requirements for consultation on critical habitat do not apply to entirely private actions on private lands. Critical habitat designations only apply to federal lands or federally funded or permitted activities on private lands. Activities on private or State lands that are funded, permitted or carried out by a Federal agency, such as a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, or a section 402 permit under the Clean Water Act from the Environmental Protection Agency, will be subject to the section 7 consultation process with the Service if those actions may affect critical habitat or a listed species.
Through this consultation, the Service would advise agencies whether the proposed actions would likely jeopardize the continued existence of the species or adversely modify critical habitat. Federal actions not affecting critical habitat, Canada lynx or its habitat (e.g., suitable habitat outside of critical habitat), and actions on non-Federal lands that are not federally funded, permitted or carried out, will not require section 7 consultation.
13. How will timber harvest and forestry management practices be affected by this critical habitat designation?
Timber harvest and associated forestry management can be beneficial or detrimental to lynx depending on harvest methods and specifications.
Forestry practices can be beneficial for lynx when the resulting understory densities meet the forage and cover needs of snowshoe hares. Although areas that are cut may not be initially used by snowshoe hares and lynx, during and after regeneration those areas can provide high quality hare habitat and sustain lynx populations.
Thinning activities (e.g. mechanized pre-commercial thinning or herbicide treatments) to promote vigorous growth of fewer trees removes the understory cover preferred by snowshoe hares. As a result, thinned stands tend to have lower snowshoe hare densities needed to support lynx populations.
For actions that are entirely private or with no Federal involvement, consultation is not necessary.
14. How long does a critical habitat designation remain in effect?
A critical habitat designation remains in effect until the species is considered to be recovered, and is delisted or the critical habitat is revised.
15. How can I get more information about Canada lynx and critical habitat?
For more information on the Canada lynx and other threatened and endangered species, visit the Service’s Midwest Region website at www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered
Fact Sheet Created Feb. 24, 2009
Last updated: July 19, 2016