CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – Snowmobile groups in Wyoming and Washington have filed suit challenging the federal government’s designation of 39,000 square miles in six states as critical habitat for the threatened Canada lynx.

However, the lead lynx biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday that the agency doesn’t consider snowmobiling to be a problem in lynx habitat and doesn’t understand why the snowmobile groups are worried.

The Wyoming State Snowmobile Association and the Washington State Snowmobile Association filed their lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne.

The groups claim that the agency’s designation of critical habitat for lynx amounts to a major federal action that requires a detailed environmental study. They say the designation will restrict snowmobiling opportunities in both states.

The Canada lynx was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2000. This February, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced its designation of critical lynx habitat in parts of Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Washington, as well as Maine and Minnesota.

Several environmental groups have filed notice that they also intend to sue the agency. They say the habitat designation covers too little of Montana and should include northeastern Washington and the southern Rocky Mountains in Colorado and northern New Mexico.

Matt Mead, of Selah, Wash., spokesman for the Washington association, said snowmobile groups are concerned that the habitat designation could curtail snowmobiling on the Continental Divide Trail, which goes through northwestern Wyoming. The critical habitat designation covers parts of western Wyoming, including portions of Yellowstone National Park.

Mead said the Continental Divide Trail draws snowmobilers from around the country. Volunteers from the snowmobiling groups help maintain the trails, he said.

“It’s always been one of our premier destination areas,” he said.

Shawn Sartorius, lead lynx biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena, Mont., said his agency hasn’t identified snowmobiling as a problem in lynx habitat.

“We haven’t identified trail maintenance as being a problem for critical habitat, and we don’t expect trail maintenance to be a problem for critical habitat. And we don’t see new trails as being a problem for critical habitat,” Sartorius said. “So we don’t see that there’s a basis for those fears.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to designate 39,000 square miles of lynx habitat in six states marked a steep increase from the original designation of fewer than 1,850 square miles in only three states.

But the expansion didn’t go far enough for a coalition of environmental groups. They filed notice in March that they intend to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service for leaving out important areas.

Geoff Hickcox, lawyer with the Western Environmental Law Center in Durango, Colo., said Wednesday that the group expects to file its lawsuit as soon as its required 60-day notice of intent to sue period expires in coming weeks.

The snowmobile groups also have filed notice that they intend to amend their lawsuit against Fish and Wildlife Service to claim that the habitat designation violated the Endangered Species Act. The groups are waiting for the 60-day notice period to expire before adding their ESA claim.

Hickcox said his clients believe it’s important to the survival of the lynx to designate critical habitat to include Colorado and northern New Mexico.

The snowmobile groups’ lawsuit has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer of Cheyenne. He’s no stranger to controversy involving snowmobiles in the state.

Brimmer late last year ordered the National Park Service to follow a management plan that allows up to 720 snowmobiles a day into Yellowstone National Park despite claims by environmental groups that the limit should be lower. His order specified that the agency should follow a management plan allowing 720 machines while it worked to draft a new plan.


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