The Missing Lynx

This Colorado biologist became an endangered species at the Fish and Wildlife Service.

So in September, Patton reluctantly quit his job with the Fish and Wildlife Service and accepted a new position with the Forest Service in Colorado, where he'll be working on a conservation project for various species. Sharon Rose, another Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, says she can't comment on Patton's grievance filing; although he dropped the complaint after he left the agency, it's still considered a confidential personnel issue.

For his part, Patton is still upset by what happened and remains convinced that his work on the lynx listing was responsible. "I was just trying to do my job," he explains.

After the Fish and Wildlife Service agrees to list an animal as "threatened" -- likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future -- wildlife officials write what is known as a "rule" explaining the threats that exist and the protections that need to be put into place. The rule regarding the lynx was so weak, critics say, that it's now being challenged in U.S. District Court by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife and several other environmental groups. According to Jasper Carlton, director of the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, under the current listing, lynx habitat can't be considered jeopardized by such threats as logging or recreational development, because Fish and Wildlife claims there's only one distinct population of lynx in the country. Like Patton, the plaintiffs believe that Fish and Wildlife should recognize four distinct lynx populations: the Northeast, the Great Lakes, the Northern Rockies and Cascades, and the Southern Rockies. "How can you say a ski resort in Colorado is jeopardizing the lynx in all of the United States?" Carlton asks. "You can't. If you say the lynx in the Southern Rockies is a distinct population, then you can say that ski-area expansions or motorized recreational trails jeopardize lynx habitat."

Gary Patton pushed to preserve the Canada lynx -- but wound up shoved out of a job.
Brett Amole
Gary Patton pushed to preserve the Canada lynx -- but wound up shoved out of a job.
Gary Patton pushed to preserve the Canada lynx -- but wound up shoved out of a job.
Brett Amole
Gary Patton pushed to preserve the Canada lynx -- but wound up shoved out of a job.
Gary Patton pushed to preserve the Canada lynx -- but wound up shoved out of a job.
Brett Amole
Gary Patton pushed to preserve the Canada lynx -- but wound up shoved out of a job.

These environmental groups echo Patton's charge that Fish and Wildlife is reluctant to place species on the endangered or threatened list because of pressure from private landowners, who feel burdened by the restrictions such protections place on the development of their property; in addition, the listings are difficult to enforce because of the sheer volume of land in this country. According to Patton, the lynx listing is particularly touchy politically because the animal's range is so broad: Outside of Canada and Alaska, the lynx resides in fourteen states stretching from Washington to New York.

Although Patton started his new job as a wildlife biologist with the Forest Service on September 10, he's not yet sure whether he'll get a chance to work on lynx preservation there. His supporters worry that his departure from Fish and Wildlife signals the end of any significant lynx conservation in Colorado.

"But I'm glad he's still in government service," Carlton says. "He can make a major contribution wherever he is, but he was in a leadership role at the Fish and Wildlife Service -- he was the person in Colorado who was pushing the most for the restoration of lynx habitat."

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