Judge restricts trapping to protect Minnesota's threatened lynx

Canada Lynx
There are an estimated 50 to 200 Canada lynx in Minnesota. This one is shown at the Minnesota Zoo.
Tom Weber for MPR

A federal judge has ordered Minnesota wildlife managers to restrict traps that can inadvertently harm the threatened Canada lynx, ending a nearly 20-year dispute over wildlife trapping in northeastern Minnesota.

The rare wildcat is about the size of a bobcat, about three feet in length. They have long ear tufts, a pronounced goatee and large “snowshoe” like feet that allow them to walk on top of deep snow.

There are only an estimated 50 to 200 lynx in far northern Minnesota.

Lynx are considered threatened under the endangered species act and can’t be legally hunted.

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But about once every two years, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, lynx are inadvertently captured in traps set for coyotes, bobcats and other wildlife.

And sometimes they’re killed.

New trap restrictions

The order issued Tuesday restricts certain kinds of traps that can strangle lynx after they’re captured. For example, snares must be equipped with a device that limits how small the snare loop can close.

They also can’t be longer than seven feet long, to limit the chance for the cat to wrap it around its neck. The order also limits large leg traps.

“This is a big win for Minnesota’s Canada lynx and all of us who care about them,” said Collette Adkins with the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the state in 2020 for failing to protect Canada lynx from trappers.

“These commonsense reforms of Minnesota’s trapping program will prevent needless, agonizing deaths of these rare cats, as well as other unintended victims like dogs.”

A judge banned certain types of trapping after the group filed a lawsuit in 2006, but the Center filed this follow-up lawsuit after lynx continued to get captured, Adkins said.

Minnesota DNR Fish and Wildlife Director Dave Olfelt said the order finalizes a consent decree the agency reached with the Center about a year ago.

“We’re pleased that it’s in place,” Olfelt said. "We think it allows us to move forward with trappers being able to continue to pursue their activity and also help prevent lynx from being accidentally taken."

Trapping organizations, including the Minnesota Trappers Association, opposed the changes, arguing, according to the court order, that “restricting trapping in the ways sought by the Center would significantly and adversely affect their rights and the rights of their members to trap in Minnesota.”

The agency now has 40 days to implement an emergency rule adopting the new restrictions. The DNR is also required to take steps to educate trappers about the new rules in advance of the all trapping season.