BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. wildlife officials have agreed to craft a new habitat protection plan for the rare, snow-loving Canada lynx that could include more land in Colorado and other western states, under a legal agreement with environmentalists announced Tuesday. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a 2024 deadline to draft the new plan after settling a legal challenge from two groups — Wild Earth Guardians and Wilderness Workshop.

Lynx

(credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife)

The groups had sued to enforce a prior court ruling that said federal officials wrongly excluded areas of Colorado, Montana and Wyoming when almost 40,000 square miles were designated in 2014 as critical for the lynx’s long-term survival.

Lynx are elusive, forest-dwelling animals. There is no reliable population estimate but several hundred are believed to roam parts of the U.S. Rocky Mountains.

They were listed as a threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2000.

During Donald Trump’s presidency, officials said the lynx had recovered and no longer needed protection after their numbers rebounded in some areas.

President Joe Biden’s administration reversed course and agreed to keep the lynx’s threatened species protections. That did not resolve the dispute over what areas they would need to survive.

(credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife)

Some scientists warn climate change could undo progress in lynx recovery, by melting away their snowy habitat and decreasing the availability of a key food — snowshoe hares.

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