Snowmobile groups sue over lynx habitat

May 7, 2009 5:46:33 AM PDT
Snowmobile groups in Wyoming and Washington have challenged the federal government's designation of 39,000 square miles in six states as critical habitat for the threatened Canada lynx.

The groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne.

Matt Mead, a spokesman for the Washington association, said the groups are concerned that the designation could curtail snowmobiling on the Continental Divide Trail, which goes through northwestern Wyoming.

He said the trail is "one of our premier destination areas" and draws snowmobilers from around the country.

But Shawn Sartorius, the lead lynx biologist for the wildlife service in Helena, Mont., said his agency hasn't identified snowmobiling as a problem in lynx habitat and didn't expect the trail's maintenance or new trails to be problems.

Sartorius said the agency doesn't "see that there's a basis for those fears."

The new designation marked a steep increase from the original designation of fewer than 1,850 square miles in three states. Several environmental groups, however, have said the increase wasn't enough and filed notice in March, contending that the designation covered too little of Montana and did not include parts of Washington and Colorado.

Geoff Hickcox, a lawyer with the Western Environmental Law Center in Durango, Colo., said Wednesday that the group expected to file its lawsuit as soon as its required 60-day period of notice of intent to sue expires in coming weeks.

The snowmobile groups also have filed notice that they intend to amend their lawsuit against the federal agency to claim that the habitat designation violated the Endangered Species Act. The groups were also waiting for the 60-day period to expire before adding the claim.

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