BILLINGS, Mont. -

U.S. wildlife officials have told a federal judge they expect to take until early 2018 to complete a long-delayed recovery plan for imperiled Canada lynx.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service disclosed that timetable Monday as part of a lawsuit brought by environmentalists in Montana.

Lynx were designated a threatened species in 2000. Since then, federal officials have repeatedly missed their own deadlines to start work on a plan to help the snow-loving big cats.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy last month expressed frustration with the agency and gave officials 30 days to craft a recovery schedule.

In the Lower 48 states, lynx are rarely seen across a 14-state range that includes portions of the Northeast, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes and the Cascade Range of Washington and Oregon.