Decision reopens debate over lynx

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PORTLAND (AP) – Timberland owners and conservationists are preparing for another round of debate about protecting the Canada lynx following a decision to reconsider the possibility of designating land as critical habitat in Maine.

H. Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has ordered the review of eight endangered species decisions including the Canada lynx because of alleged improper meddling by a senior Interior Department official.

The agency had proposed including more than 10,000 square miles of Maine woods in a critical habitat zone for the federally endangered cats.

But the Maine land was excluded in a final rule published in November by the Interior Department after meetings with timberland owners.

Conservationists are now considering whether to bring legal challenges or wait to see whether the decision is changed.

“Everyone has to step back and try to figure out what this means,” said Jym St. Pierre, director of RESTORE: The North Woods.

“It seems like this really shakes up the whole game and probably will result in, I hope, a serious review of Canada lynx critical habitat issues, as well as a number of other endangered species decisions.”

Hall’s decision on Friday mandated the review of eight decisions in which former deputy assistant secretary Julie MacDonald was involved. She was rebuked for pressuring scientists to alter their findings about endangered species and leaking information to industry officials.

Last summer, MacDonald met in Washington with landowners from Maine, including a representative of Plum Creek Timber Co., the largest landowner affected by the proposal. The Maine contingent contended the regulation was unnecessary.

Afterward, Fish and Wildlife officials were told that Plum Creek should be left out of the habitat area, said Lori Nordstrom, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who was based in Montana at the time. She’s now based in Orono.

To be fair and consistent, all private timber company land, and all other land in Maine, ultimately was removed.

Land within critical habitat zones gets an extra layer of federal regulation. A landowner who seeks a federal permit, such as permission to disturb wetlands, would face a separate review for effects on critical lynx habitat.

AP-ES-07-24-07 1347EDT

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