- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A federal judge gave final approval to an agreement between wildlife advocates and Montana officials that tightens state regulations to reduce the chance of trappers accidentally killing threatened Canada lynx.

The order Tuesday from U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen resolves a 2013 lawsuit from conservationists who said 15 lynx have been captured since 2000 by trappers seeking bobcats, wolves or other animals.

Under the terms reached by the two sides, Montana wildlife commissioners began imposing regulations in July that restrict the types of traps, snares and bait that can be used in two special protection zones where lynx have been documented. Trappers also would be required to check their traps more frequently.

The medium-sized, snow-loving cats feed primarily on snowshoe hares. There is no reliable population estimate for the animals that first gained federal protections as a threatened species in 2000.

Trappers who had intervened in the case opposed the settlement. They argued that because Montana has so many remote, rugged areas, the requirement to check traps every 48 hours effectively put many places off-limits to trapping non-protected animals.

They said attorneys for the state had not looked after their interests and that the settlement could have a significant effect on their livelihood.

The judge said in his order that the Montana Trappers Association and others had an opportunity to influence the case during settlement negotiations. The trappers’ “apparent displeasure” with the agreed-upon changes in rules was not enough to sink the deal, Christensen said.

The attorney for the trappers, Gary Leistico, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The environmental groups that sued in the case were WildEarth Guardians, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan. Their attorney, Matthew Bishop with the Western Environmental Law Center, said the settlement would remain in effect until federal protections for lynx are lifted or the state obtains a federal permit allowing the animals to be killed.

“It’s certainly not about shutting down the trapping industry in the state of Montana. It’s more about protecting the lynx in certain parts of the state,” Bishop said.

The special protection zones for lynx include an area north of Yellowstone National Park that encompasses the Gallatin, Absaroka and Beartooth mountain ranges. Another covers a broad swath of northwestern Montana, from the Canada border south through Glacier National Park to U.S. Highway 12 east of Helena.

Also included in the settlement was a two-year extension of a moratorium on trapping wolverines, another snow-loving predator. Wolverine trapping has been prohibited in Montana since 2012.

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Corrects with protective zone for lynx located west of Helena.

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