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MDIF&W: First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds Maine's Trapping Regulations

October 22, 2010

MAINE DEPARTMENT OF INLAND FISHERIES & WILDLIFE 284 State St., SHS 41, Augusta, ME 04333 www.mefishwildlife.com Main Number: 287-8000

MEDIA: For more information, call IF&W Spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte at (207) 287-6008

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 22, 2010

First Circuit United States Court of Appeals Upholds Maine’s Trapping Regulations

The First Circuit United States Court of Appeals this week affirmed a lower federal court’s ruling that denied a request from two organizations seeking to permanently enjoin Maine’s trapping regulations. The appeals court agreed that the groups failed to prove that Canada lynx as a species are irreparably harmed under the state’s rules.

The appeals court also took exception with the organizations’ request to change Maine’s regulations or create a working group to further study the issue. The court noted that the groups “expressly disavowed such remedies before the district court” and that such “bait and switch” should be “deplored.”

The written decision by First Circuit United States Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sandra L. Lynch was received by the Office of the Maine Attorney General on Wednesday on behalf of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin.

Also hearing the appeal were Circuit Judges Michael Boudin and Jeffrey R. Howard.

The request for permanent injunction – Animal Welfare Institute, et al. v. Roland D. Martin, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (CV-08-267-B-W) – initially was filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor in August 2008. The Wildlife Alliance of Maine joined AWI as a party to this case.

In November 2009, U.S. District Court Chief Judge John A. Woodcock ruled that there was no evidence that trapping has any detrimental effect on the population of Canada lynx in Maine, and he declined to order the State of Maine to impose any new restrictions on trapping.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Office of the Maine Attorney General are pleased that the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the U.S. District Court decision.

“We thank the First Circuit Court of Appeals for its thorough examination of the U.S. District Court’s ruling, and for making the correct decision to uphold it,” said MDIF&W Commissioner Martin. “Wildlife management requires a balance between species protection and population control, and our biologists achieve that balance through research, in-the-field studies and the establishment of rules on legitimate harvesting tools such as trapping. Fortunately, the courts found that legal attempts to undermine biologists’ efforts were inadequate.”

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills added, “Special appreciation goes to Assistant Attorneys General Christopher Taub and Nancy Macirowski for their excellent advocacy both at trial and on appeal. Their arguments recognized the balancing that must take place in these cases and the values of Maine’s outdoor heritage and the interests of Maine's sportsmen and women that must be weighed against the federal protections of wildlife.”

The Animal Welfare Institute and the Wildlife Alliance of Maine alleged that Maine, by allowing trappers to obtain permits to use foothold traps to catch non-threatened or non-endangered species, violated the federal Endangered Species Act because an individual lynx could incidentally be caught in the traps.

After a six-day hearing, however, Chief Judge Woodcock found that the groups failed to prove Canada lynx suffer serious physical injury from incidental takes in foothold traps, and therefore that the species was not threatened. He recognized that there is no evidence that trapping is having a detrimental effect on the population of Canada lynx in Maine, and declined to order the State of Maine to impose new restrictions on trapping.

Canada lynx are designated as a Threatened Species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

In Maine, it is estimated that there are at least 650 breeding adults and at least 1,000 total lynx. The U.S. District Court credited the evidence submitted by the Department regarding the population estimations.

Maine Assistant Attorney General Christopher C. Taub stated that the First Circuit’s decision “is significant because it conclusively establishes in Maine and other states within the court’s jurisdiction that anyone seeking an injunction under the Endangered Species Act must prove not only that the Act is being violated, but that the violation is causing irreparable harm to the species.”

Taub further noted that “compelling expert testimony, especially that of MDIF&W’s former chief wildlife biologist, Dr. Ken Elowe, conclusively established that there is no evidence suggesting that any single Canada lynx has suffered serious physical injury or death as a result of being caught in a foothold trap, much less that the traps pose any risk to the population as whole.”

Skip Trask, executive director of the Maine Trappers Association, an intervener in the lawsuit, called the decision timely and rewarding.

“We knew from day one of this lawsuit that trapping poses not threat to Maine’s healthy lynx population and it’s rewarding to know that some of the most respected federal judges in the land agree with us,” Trask said. “Maine trappers would have been the biggest losers if this lawsuit had been successful. This decision is a huge win for the Department, for Maine trappers and for sportsmen and sportswomen across the country. As we head into the woods this fall to set our traplines, it’s a big relief to know that this unwarranted lawsuit is no longer a threat to our outdoor lifestyle.”

The 2010 general trapping season starts Oct. 31 and closes on Dec. 31, for most allowable species. Maine permits trapping of beaver, bobcat, coyote, fisher, fox, marten, mink, muskrat, opossum, otter, raccoon, red squirrel, skunk and weasel.

Since 1967, MDIF&W has made it illegal to intentionally hunt or trap Canada lynx, including restricting the type, size and placement of traps in Maine.

In 2008, MDIF&W recognized there was a gap in the clarity of its regulations regarding Conibear traps and how it could result in the incidental taking of Canada lynx. The U.S. District Court ordered MDIF&W to establish emergency rules clarifying the intent of Conibear trap restrictions to ensure that Canada lynx would be unlikely to be caught in these types of traps.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council approved emergency regulations in two weeks, and those regulations went into effect during the 2008 trapping season.

The vast majority of Canada lynx caught in traps in Maine is not harmed and promptly released back into the wild. Major injuries are rare. Since 1999, only two lynx have been killed by legally set traps. By comparison, 22 lynx have been killed during the same time period after being struck by cars.

For several years, MDIF&W has been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to obtain what is known as an incidental take permit to protect the State from any further legal challenges. An incidental take permit allows lawful activities that by happenstance would result in the incidental take of an Endangered or Threatened species.

“Our effort to obtain an incidental take permit will be boosted by the federal Appeals Court ruling, particularly the affirmation that there is no evidence that trapping activity under Maine’s rules has a detrimental impact on Canada lynx,” according to John Boland, MDIF&W Acting Director of Resource Management.

Maine’s trapping laws are outlined in the “State of Maine Hunting and Trapping Laws and Rules” book that is given to hunters and trappers when they purchase a license. It also can be viewed on the Department’s website at www.mefishwildlife.com.