ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is failing to protect threatened lynx forest cats from trappers aiming at other species, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court this week by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The lawsuit says the DNR is allowing trappers to continue to target bobcats, fishers and pine martens in the lynx range knowing that the trappers are sometimes taking lynx as well.

Lynx have been federally protected as threatened in Minnesota since 2000.

While state trapping laws have been tightened in the lynx range of northeastern Minnesota, the DNR still allows trappers to set snares and other traps in the region for other fur-bearing animals.

Lynx are regularly seen across far northeastern Minnesota where their big paws, in deep-snow winters, give them an edge over competitors like bobcats.

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No one knows how many of the small forest cats currently live in northern Minnesota. Their numbers appear to fluctuate greatly, with some migration south from Ontario and Manitoba in some years. While studies a decade ago confirmed lynx were living, breeding and thriving in the northern tier of Minnesota counties, it's still believed that their population is small — somewhere between 50 and 200 — and that it fluctuates depending on the current population of their primary prey, snowshoe hares.

But climate change and inbreeding with bobcats may be dooming any long-term future for lynx, and Collette Adkins, Minnesota-based attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity who filed the suit, says any accidental loss of lynx in traps is too much.

At least 16 lynx have been trapped in Minnesota since 2008, according to the group. At least six of those died. The center is asking the court to require the DNR to update its rules to require trappers to install lynx-exclusion devices on their trap sets that allow smaller animals inside the traps, but keep lynx out.

The group sued the DNR over the same issue in 2006. The court at that time ordered the DNR to make several rule changes to make it harder for lynx to get trapped in the snares, including limiting their size and prohibiting types of bait.

The Duluth News Tribune reported one year ago that the Center for Biological Diversity was planning to file the lawsuit.

Although once more widespread, lynx currently reside only in small breeding populations in Minnesota, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Maine. A reintroduced population also resides in Colorado. In 2018, the Trump administration announced plans to remove federal protection from lynx, but has not yet moved forward with an actual proposal.