Lawsuit Filed to Protect Rare Lynx From Traps in Idaho

Increase in State-permitted Fur Trapping Leads to Illegal Trapping of Wild Cats

BOISE, Idaho— Five conservation groups filed a lawsuit today against the governor of Idaho and other state officials to halt trapping that harms and often kills Canada lynx, one of the rarest cats in the United States. The lawsuit charges Gov. Butch Otter, the director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and members of the state Fish and Game Commission with violations of the Endangered Species Act resulting from state permitting that leads to trapping and killing of lynx, a threatened species numbering as few as 100 animals in Idaho.

The state has failed to take any action to correct its destructive illegal activities despite repeatedly being alerted to the violations by the organizations filing today’s lawsuit, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center.

“With lynx being pushed to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states, it’s shameful that Idaho officials have just sat idly by for years,” said Amy Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Idaho can’t just ignore federal law and go on condoning the trapping of this rare and magnificent cat.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, trapping of a lynx is illegal, regardless of whether the cat is killed, injured or released. Any agency permitting such trapping is also liable under the Act. Canada lynx are now under unprecedented threat from recreational and commercial trapping in Idaho. With a dramatic increase in fur prices, especially for bobcat, at least three incidents of lynx being unintentionally trapped have been confirmed in just the last two years.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game can develop a conservation plan with measures to minimize incidental trapping of lynx and receive a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Such a plan would include restrictions on body-crushing and steel-jaw traps and snares, reporting requirements, and a daily trap check requirement throughout lynx habitat. Similar lawsuits in Minnesota and Maine have led to such restrictions.

“Idaho officials need to understand that a healthy Idaho population of this mountain cat is critical, not just to lynx survival here, but across the western United States,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of the Western Watershed Project. “We have to maintain a healthy breeding mix between Rockies and Canadian populations, and Idaho sits at the crossroads.”

Last year the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed more than 26 million acres of critical habitat across six states for the Canada lynx, which faces ongoing threats from habitat destruction and reduced snowpack from climate change.

“Lynx are a key part of what makes Idaho a world-class destination for viewing wildlife,” said Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director at Friends of the Clearwater. “Sitting by while Idaho’s mountains and forests lose their last lynx would take away some of the richness that makes our state so special.”

Lynx are medium-sized, long-legged cats, ranging up to 24 pounds. They are generally nocturnal and well adapted to hunting snowshoe hare at high elevations.

“Idaho’s backwards approach to wildlife management proves the need for strong federal laws like the Endangered Species Act to ensure the survival and recovery of our most imperiled wildlife, including the Canada lynx,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The state is flouting federal law and disrupting functioning ecosystems by permitting cruel trapping of keystone species like wolves, bobcat and lynx.”

The lawsuit, which was filed today in federal district court in Boise, can be read here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation organization with a mission to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation.

Friends of the Clearwater is an Idaho-based nonprofit conservation organization that works to protect the wildness and biodiversity of the public wildlands, wildlife, and waters of Idaho’s Clearwater Basin.

WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit conservation organization working to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers and health of the American West.

The Western Environmental Law Center uses the power of the law to defend and protect the American West’s treasured landscapes, iconic wildlife and rural communities.




  1. R. Harold Smoot Avatar
    R. Harold Smoot

    Soon Idaho is going to become so bogged down with lawsuits it will be unable to provide even the most basic level of service to its citizens – and they will be on the deserving end of that outcome for electing their narrow minded and backwards thinking representatives. These attacks on wildlife, freedom of the press with ‘Ag-Gag’ and everyone and everything not conservative and white are going to continue dragging that state well below the 49th ranking they are all so proud of.
    Granted, there are a many forward thinking and realistic people who live there. I just hope their voices become increasingly louder.

    1. jerry collins Avatar
      jerry collins

      Well spoken. I will never go there again till the government and attitude is replaced.

    2. alf Avatar

      I wish I could afford to move out of this backwater

  2. Susan Childs Avatar
    Susan Childs

    Once again this state has appaling legislation that allows them to trap and hunt a confirmed threatened species. how can this be allowed or have all of our laws gone out the window?? This state is an example around the world of how barbaric America is with its precious wildlife.

  3. Logan Avatar

    Anyone who doesn’t know about his issue who reads this article or the comments would think that trappers are intentionally targeting lynx in direct violation of the endangered species act, that is simply not true. Lynx are being caught accidentally in traps set for other animals. In the last 2 years only 3 lynx have been caught. The first two were released unharmed, the third was alive when the trapper misidentified it and shot it. Realizing his mistake he reported to IDFG. That 3rd trapper should have been prosecuted more fully and received a higher fine.

    My point is that in each case the lynx was alive and well when found in the trap. This lawsuit seems to be more about using the lynx to attempt an all-out ban on trapping in Idaho than it is about reducing the number of accidentally lynx trapping mortality.

    When this is over and settled and Idaho applied for and received an incidental take permit from USFWS and Idaho has mandated that trappers check traps daily and connibear style traps are banned for land trapping the 5 groups in this lawsuit will not be satisfied because trapping will still be allowed.

    We know very little about lynx in Idaho, these incidental catches could provide an opportunity for biologists to study individual home ranges, habits and populations. When an unintentional catch occurs, trappers call the IDFG to assist in release, at that time a radio collar can be attached.

    1. R. Harold Smoot Avatar
      R. Harold Smoot

      “Lynx are being caught accidentally in traps set for other animals.” And therein lies one of the problems – trapping needs to end. It is indiscriminate, barbaric and completely 100% unnecessary.
      Trappers will claim until they are red in the face that what they are doing is ‘conservation’, but as Logan pointed out, setting a trap is no different than setting a landmine – you have no idea who or what will step on it. How is that conservation exactly? Sounds more like a game of chance or gambling, not conservation.

    2. JB Avatar

      “In the last 2 years only 3 lynx have been caught.”

      I’m not anti-trapping, but this statement needs amending:

      “In the last 2 years only 3 lynx have been reportedly caught.”

      1. Nancy Avatar

        Out of a population of already deemed sensitive population of how many?

      2. Ken Cole Avatar

        Even if the lynx were released “unharmed” it is still “take” as defined by the Endangered Species Act. Take of a listed species is illegal.

        The term “take” means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.

    3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      I think Carter Niemeyer’s comment (see here) is pretty relevant to your statement about lynx and other non-target animals being released alive.

  4. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    If this lawsuit is able to prohibit some types of traps being used it will be a better day for all of wildlife.

    Trapping to supply clothing is a day that has come and gone. This is the 21st century and we know that many of the predators that are trapped are critical to the health of ecosystems. Martins, bobcats, wolverines, Canada lynx, coyotes, wolves and many more are all subject to traps. We all know that these animals bear extreme pain and suffering and that none of us would want our pet cat or dog to suffer a similar fate.

    I believe they can do density studies without having to use these type of traps so that justification doesn’t make sense.

    I know there are ballots coming to Montana and Oregon this year or next to ban trapping. The day that all trapping for commercial business (fur trapping) ends, will be a day for America to celebrate.

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      Yes. With critically endangered numbers, we can’t afford ‘bycatch’.

    2. W.Hong Avatar

      I saw in the news that the trapping in Montana did not get enough signatures to be on the vote in November.

    3. R. Harold Smoot Avatar
      R. Harold Smoot

      Gary makes an excellent point – there is absolutely no need for modern day trapping. If Logan or anyone else who supports trapping were to walk down a street in most any part of the country wearing the fur they would be ostracized, spat-on or worse.
      And where does our wildlife end up? China and Russia – both supposedly our arch enemies. If you factor in the number of Bald Eagles accidentally trapped or snared that places trapping as one of the most un-American occupations I can think of – save for being an Al Quaeda operative or the like.
      It’s always the most ugly people killing the most beautiful things on this planet. Time to put an end to that.

      1. Elk375 Avatar

        ++ If Logan or anyone else who supports trapping were to walk down a street in most any part of the country wearing the fur they would be ostracized, spat-on or worse.++

        Walk downtown Vail, Colorado December 28 of any year. There is lynx fur everywhere and very few care.

        1. ZeeWolf Avatar

          Maybe those people in Vail don’t care because they are primarily 1%’ers, and my perception is that that group tends to show disdain towards public opinion regardless of the situation.

          1. Nancy Avatar

            Excellent point ZeeWolf. Wealth is too often the excuse for ignorance.

            1. Elk375 Avatar

              Lynx coats and Vail.

              Several years ago I was at a Patagonia Company sponsored wildlife film festival being very sick I had to leave early.

              The film that I left early was a spoof on an abandon Colorado ski town. Several cross country skiers from Telluride had crossed the mountains and found and intact ski town that was deserted. So anthropologist and archeologist were brought in to study the community. The anthropologist name the residents of the town the “Sunset People” there was a few glimpses of the Sunset people strolling the town, the man wore a sheep skin coat and the woman a lynx coat, then they faded away. The conclusion was that something bad had happen and the poor workers left town early and the “Sunset People” stayed. Then things got so bad that the “Sunset People” tried to leave town but since they drove Hummers with such poor gas mileage that they were never able to leave and turned to cannibalism until the all were dead.

              I thought the name of the movie was “What Happen to the Sunset People” but I can cannot find any reference to that title. Has anyone seen this film as I want to show it to others.

              1. WM Avatar


                I think if you still go to Vail, say Lions Head at Christmas time, and look closely at the jewelry adorned mothers from Mexico who are gathering their kids after they zip down the hill on the last run of the day, you will still see a lot of the fur (These are the 10 percenters from Mexico, and of Castillian or Salamanan blood lines, that have most of the wealth and like to show it, of course).

                Must be the “sunset people” or whatever the spoof movie called them, are still around. Probably the same thing over at Beaver Creek (though more likely Texans), or further west in Aspen (some movie star types still caught up in the 80’s). And then, there is Telluride (probably more wealthy Texans) – all adorned in that disgusting fur.

              2. ZeeWolf Avatar

                Elk… I believe that the movie is called “The Lost People of Mountain Village”. It took me awhile to find it, but I was intrigued by your description. I thought it was interesting and funny, a great satire (yes, I am a fan of Mad Magazine and The Onion). FYI, Mountain Village does exist. Telluride is a household name, so to speak, for skiing and is also well known for excessive wealth (as are most such ski towns). Mountain Village is the wealthy enclave located a few miles away.

                My search engine parameters that finally clicked were “Telluride spoof movie”. Along the way I tried “abandoned ski area movie” and found a great site that gave a comprehensive list of all the abandoned ski areas in Colorado, a list that had about 150 entries.

              3. Nancy Avatar

                Couldn’t find your Sunset People film Elk but did run across this interesting bit of history:


              4. Elk375 Avatar

                Thanks Zee Wolf, I have wanted to see this short movie again show it to others.

  5. rich Avatar


    You are attempting to rationalize the irrational behavior of a handful of people killing animals for their fur, teeth, or claws to make a few bucks. No human is going to freeze or starve if the animals are not trapped and killed. Its all about vanity and greed and putting endangered animals at risk. Lets face it, trapping is for the most part non-selective. I’ve heard it all before that there are trap settings, special devices, location, etc, so nobody gets hurt. But every year hundreds if not thousands of animals including pets are unintentionally caught and injured or killed. As an experiment put you hand leg or other body part in a trap or snare for a day or more, going without water or food, all the while experiencing the stress of trying to get free. Report back if you survive uninjured. Don’t be deceived that just because the law requires the traps be checked daily that they are checked daily. Trying to defend an anachronistic hobby that puts endangered animals at risk is a fool’s errand.

    1. Logan Avatar

      118, that’s the number of non-target catches of wildlife fatalities in traps per year in Idaho. Most of those animals are far from endangered. The only truly alarming number is the 22 fischers that were caught of which 15 were killed. You can see it for yourself it was recently posted on this site.
      5000, that’s the number of wildlife killed by vehicle collisions per year in Idaho but I don’t see anyone filing lawsuits to impose a motor vehicle ban or extremely slow speed limits.
      As for whether or not trapping is still a viable industry, I think it is. I would much rather wear a fur coat than something made of synthetic materials fabricated in a chemical plant that pumps pollution into the air and water. Fur is a renewable natural resource unlike synthetic fabrics and fillers.
      True, some trappers might not be following the rule to check traps within the required time but serious trappers will whether it is required or not. A trapper knows that if an animal is in his trap he needs to get to it before it dies and other animals destroy its fur. Also, he knows that he will catch a lot more animals by checking and resetting traps daily than by letting an animal sit in a trap multiple days during which that set is no longer working for him.
      My previous point was that trapping is not putting lynx at risk, 2 of the 3 recent catches were released alive and well and the 4rd should have been and would have been if the trapper hadn’t miss identified the animal as a bobcat. The trap itself is not what killed the lynx. I did also say that I would support a ban on connibear and other killing traps for land based trapping where it is possible to have lynx, wolverine and fisher bycatches. However, I have little reason to believe that such equipment bans would satisfy the 5 plaintiffs in this case, they would continue to pursue other means of banning all trapping.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        “I would much rather wear a fur coat than something made of synthetic materials fabricated in a chemical plant that pumps pollution into the air and water”

        Ever hear of layering Logan?

        The opportunity to get back to smaller, creative ways to “cloth” mankind are out there, while leaving a smaller impact on other living. breathing species 🙂

      2. rich Avatar


        You must be smoking some of those funny cigarettes if you really believe that only 118 animals were unintentionally killed by trappers last year. You probably also believe the tobacco industry’s claim that smoking is not hazardous to human health and that the tooth fairy really exists. Let me assure you that self reporting is not reliable and that many of the animals supposedly released unharmed eventually died due to stress or injury while in the trap. Just because an animal crawls off on its own power after being in a trap for a day or more does not mean it is in perfect health and will live happily ever after.

        Your comment that many animals die in vehicle collisions is a red herring and far different from putting out traps that catch any similar animals that happen to encounter the trap including endangered animals such as fisher, lynx or even family pets. By your reasoning even 15 fishers killed by trappers is justified because many more may have been killed by vehicles.

        1. WM Avatar

          ++By your reasoning even 15 fishers killed by trappers is justified because many more may have been killed by vehicles.++

          Actually, as repugnant as that may seem to you, there seems to be a reasonable rationale behind it.

      3. Ken Cole Avatar

        You are misrepresenting the post you cited. The 118 refers only to non-target animals reported as killed in trapping related to wolves. It does not refer to all non-target species killed by trapping. That number is much higher and there is little information about the full scope of non-target wildlife killed by trapping in general.

        Also, even the 118 number is low because not all wolf trappers were surveyed and I’m sure not all of the non-target species were reported. Of those “released alive” many probably had injuries that put them at a severe disadvantage for survival and likely died afterward.

        1. Ken Cole Avatar

          Also, from the post you linked to, non-target species caught outnumbered the number of wolves captured that year.

    2. JB Avatar

      “Lets face it, trapping is for the most part non-selective.”

      Rich, with all due respect, trapping can be highly selective. I’ve a colleague who traps for research purposes in an urban setting; they use both snares (with a lock to prevent choking) and foothold traps. In more than 12 years of trapping they’ve caught two non-targets (both uninjured, in snares)–one of which was immediately turned loose by the owner.

      I get it, you [and in fact, most people] don’t like trapping. That’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinion; but you’re not entitled to your own set of facts.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        And your “set of facts” JB are based on people who trap for research, who are considerate of the welfare of the animal being trapped verses say the average trapper out there who could give a crap about time limits, nor animal suffering in the trap? Because lets face it? Your colleagues were not contemplating future profits, right?

        1. Jay Avatar

          Trapping in an urban setting is a far cry–non-target-wise–from trapping in a place where you might catch mountain lions, wolves, bobcat, lynx, wolverine, all manner of ungulates, etc., etc. Quite different circumstances, I would argue.

      2. Louise Kane Avatar
        Louise Kane

        JB as Nancy pointed out your colleagues are a different group with a non commercial purpose for trapping and with a non deadly outcome desired. Trappers often set hundreds of traps and snares and they do brag about the incidental catch they luck onto. I think this is one area that you need to research more carefully and consider the people that are trapping for profit, their motives and their incentive for reporting non target species. I suspect its pretty low

      3. rich Avatar


        While I may not share your expertise I have over 15 traps from size 0 to 4 hanging in the barn. Leg hold traps are banned in Washington. While not a paid expert like your associates, I do know how to bait, set and secure a trap. Any fool can learn to do that and that’s the problem. It’s a lot more challenging to exclude non-target animals.

        Your colleagues were working in an urban setting with the latest technology and opportunities to prevent trapping of somewhat limited non-target species. I recognize and respect your expertise and that you are also entitled to your opinion. If you want facts, all you have to do is look at the reports from Wildlife Services. Non-target animals, including family pets, are too often caught by their experts. Hopefully they always document the trapping of non-target species, but somehow I suspect such incidents may go unreported to avoid bad publicity. Also according to Logan, 22 fishers and 4 lynx were unintentionally caught by trappers. That seems to be indicative of the non-selective nature of trapping when you consider the rarity of fishers and lynx and the fact that all such incidents may not have been reported.

      4. Amre Avatar

        What species is your colleague researching?

  6. alf Avatar

    What’s the status of the wolverine in Idaho ? It’s my impression that its numbers are as low or lower than those of the lynx. I wonder if it was mentioned/included in this lawsuit, and if not, why not.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      The USFWS has proposed to list wolverines as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. There is no final rule yet.

  7. aves Avatar

    There is far more imperiled wildcat in the U.S. that we are in real danger of losing entirely. Habitat loss is wiping out the last 50 ocelots in south Texas:

    Here’s a petition to encourage the USFWS to protect more habitat:

  8. Carter Niemeyer Avatar
    Carter Niemeyer

    I just want to remind people that when a non-target species like a lynx are accidentally caught in a foothold trap it is often the dead of winter in subzero temperatures. The agency or media may report that the bird or animal was released unharmed or whatever terminology you choose but I will guarantee you that IF that bird or animal spent any amount of time in that trap the foot was frozen and irreparably damaged. SO running off into the sunset with a frozen paw is a death sentence for cats like the lynx.

    1. Amre Avatar

      Very true!


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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