Lynx and the Law

Many years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Clayton Lake*, way up in northern Maine, where the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife was conducting a live-trapping survey in the hopes of determining how many Canada lynx live in the Maine Woods. For years, biologists had dismissed the historical records of lynx in northern and western Maine. It was just easier for wildlife bureaucrats to pretend there were no lynx—except for a few individuals that "went rogue" and roamed down from Quebec. To admit otherwise might invoke the Endangered Species Act beloved by environmentalists but hated by Maine's powerful and influential timber companies (not to mention trappers). I don't think the biologists wanted the hassle, honestly, and so it was easier just to say that there were no lynx and not spend the money looking for them. (That's my story anyway, and I'm sticking to it.) Eventually, though, commonsense won out when lynx advocates began pointing to evidence of the elusive cats turning up over the entire northern half of the state.

Courtesy WikipediaLo and behold, IF&W field biologists discovered lynx as soon as they began looking for them, and not just a few random cats but breeding populations, complete with kittens.

It turns out too, though, that trappers, biologists, and landowners were correct to be concerned about how animal rights activists would try to use this information for their own purposes. Very soon the Wildlife Alliance of Maine and the Animal Welfare Institute were crafting lawsuits to ban all large-animal trapping in the North Woods ostensibly to protect lynx (which are anything but endangered in Canada, by the way).

Now a U.S. District Court Judge has sided with the trappers, concluding that not enough lynx are taken in bear, coyote, and other sets as to pose a risk to that spectacular cat's continuing presence in our northern forest.

This strikes me as the best, or at least most intellectually honest, ruling. One can despise trapping for all sorts of ethical reasons, but I dislike lobbying groups that disguise their actual motivations in court. I'm sure the Wildlife Alliance of Maine and the Animal Welfare Institute hate all trapping, but if they want to see the practice banned outright they should be straightforward enough to make their case to the courts—or the voters—without using the non-representative case of lynx for cover.

*It was on this trip, incidentally, that I met the late game warden pilot Jack McPhee, who helped inspire the character of Charley Stevens in The Poacher's Son