Albuquerque (AP) — Conservation groups from three states are asking federal wildlife officials to provide endangered species protections for the Canada lynx throughout its range in Northern New Mexico.
The elusive, long-haired cats are federally threatened in several states in the West, but not in New Mexico. They are even considered endangered by state officials in neighboring Colorado, where more than 200 lynx have been reintroduced since 1999.
Some of the cats have drifted south into New Mexico, and conservationists argue they should be protected here as well.
The groups sent a petition seeking protections Wednesday to the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Matthew Bishop, a New Mexico attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, which is representing the conservationists.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has never once used an artificial state boundary or county boundary or any boundary below the international level … to divide one biological grouping or population of a species,” Bishop said in an interview. “This would be the first time.”
Bishop said the petition seeks to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a decision on the lynx’s status in New Mexico since the cats have been spotted in the state.
Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Elizabeth Slown said Wednesday that the agency had not seen the petition. She said the agency will likely have 60 days to review the document and decide if federal biologists need to do more research on whether the lynx should be listed in New Mexico.
If the agency were to deny the petition, Bishop said, his clients would immediately challenge the ruling in court. “Any decision not to protect the lynx in New Mexico would be seen as arbitrary and capricious,” he said. “The lynx needs more habitat, not less.”
While the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t consider New Mexico as part of the lynx’s historic range, conservationists contend in the petition that the finding is irrelevant because research shows some 80 lynx have been located in Northern New Mexico and several have been found dead in the state since the reintroduction program began in southern Colorado.
Bishop also noted lynx habitat and the snowshoe hares the cats feed on don’t stop at Colorado’s southern border, but continue into New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountain ranges.
“I’ve seen conservation maps, and it just drives you crazy. There’s a straight line (at the Colorado border),” he said. “It drives you crazy because you just know that suitable habitat stretches down into New Mexico.”
The groups that signed the petition include Santa Fe-based Forest Guardians; the Center for Native Ecosystems in Paonia, Colo.; Animal Protection of New Mexico; Carson Forest Watch of Llano, N.M.; Sinapu of Boulder, Colo.; and the Animal Protection Institute of Sacramento, Calif.
By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN | Associated Press