Margaret Kravchuk, a U.S. Magistrate Judge, recently sentenced another Maine trapper to do jail time after the trapper pleaded guilty to killing a lynx in one of his traps. According to the Bangor Daily News, William McCoy, 41, of Fayetteville, Pa., inadvertently caught a federally protected lynx in one of his traps in Stacyville. At his trial in U.S. District Court, McCoy, who has no criminal record, told the judge that he panicked when he found the dead lynx in his trap and attempted to discard the carcass.

It is a federal crime to kill a lynx, which is protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA)

Over the years, the lynx has been a source of great legal controversy. In fact, there have been a number of civil actions brought by animal rights extremists who have used the lynx’s legal status as a pawn to close down all trapping in Maine. Last year, in an important decision that favored trappers, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock rejected claims by animal rights plaintiffs that incidental trapping of lynx would endanger the legally protected wild cat.

Judge Woodcock’s ruling was a breath of fresh air because it was grounded in common sense. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Judge Kravchuk’s recent ruling.

Yes, the law is the law. And McCoy’s mistake — trying to cover up his misdemeanor — must not go unpunished. But does his misdeed warrant time in Federal prison? Really now, does the punishment fit the crime?

Let’s weigh this in context.

Part of the problem is the Endangered Species Act itself. A “hanging judge” could technically have sent McCoy to a federal jail for six months and fined him $25,000. So Kravchuk can argue that her sentencing of trapper McCoy was reasonable and restrained.

What she and the average citizen may not realize is that the lynx in Maine have substantially recovered to the point where federal protection has been unwarranted for some time now. In truth, the lynx remain federally protected by default: two years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seriously considered delisting the Maine lynx. That never happened, not for biological reasons, but for lack of funding and staff. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist conceded as much during an interview with the Northwoods Sporting Journal.

In other words, the jailing of McCoy is, in effect, the product of governmental dithering and a law that has run amuck. Make no mistake, McCoy should have reported his incidental take of a lynx to authorities, and he should have been slapped with a fine. However, putting him behind bars for his mistake, especially in context of the bureaucratically delayed delisting of lynx, makes no sense at all. Judge Kravchuk’s threat to hand out longer prison terms to victimized ESA “miscreants” like McCoy, further marginalizes the credibility of the Endangered Species Act and, in some ways, raises questions about Judge Kravchuk’s capacity to exercise discretion in her rulings.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal and has written his first book, A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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