A common mistake we make when dealing with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is to judge its decision-making by normative standards. That is to say, we should have learned by now not to expect much of what USFWS does to make much sense. This large bureaucratic organization is, after all, part of the monumental behemoth we call the U.S. government.

USFWS’s issuance of an Incidental Take Permit (ITP), that will allow limited trapping activities to take place in lynx habitat in Maine’s north woods, is a case in point. The ink was hardly dry on the agreement between USFWS and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W) when two lynx were killed accidentally by trappers and the state closed down trapping in lynx habitat. (The ITP originally allowed the accidental lethal taking of up to three lynx over a 15- year period.)

A reasonable person might ask: If there are between 500 and 1,000 reproducing lynx in Maine, why did the ITP only allow the incidental taking of a mere three animals over a 15 year period? The rule of thumb with wildlife managers has always been this: a 10 percent harvest of the known population will not have a deleterious effect on overall population numbers. Moreover, why in the world did MDIF&W ever agree to this low number in the first place, especially with known lynx populations on the uptick?

What is Maine’s lynx population? USFWS says it does not know specifically, somewhere between 500 and a thousand. Doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know? What if, as evidence suggests, our lynx numbers are even higher than the official estimates?

In South Florida, biologists estimate that there are 100 to 180 endangered panthers roaming the backcountry. So far this year a record 20 of the big cats have been killed by cars. Do the math. The percentage of “incidental take” of Florida’s endangered panthers by cars is somewhere between 15 and 20 percent! A Florida wildlife spokesman says not to panic. He says,”We don’t feel that the loss is having a major impact on the population.”

This same biologist said that if one in every three panther cubs survives, the population of panthers will not be undermined. Can we draw a parallel with the Maine lynx situation?

If you applied the Florida panther math to the Maine lynx, trappers would be permitted to accidentally take 50 to 100 lynx a year and not impact the population appreciably. And yet, USFWS, in collaboration with Maine’s state wildlife managers, is restricting Maine’s incidental take to .006 percent of the lynx population – not over a year – but over 15 years! Really now, does this pass the straight face test?

To be consistent with USFWS’s treatment of Maine trappers, it would have to ban all vehicles from the South Florida highways. When that happens, you’ll see white blackbirds.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. 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, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.” Online information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com or by calling Diane at 207 745 0049.

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