Canada lynx Lynx canadensis
ESA status: threatened, candidate in NM
Canada lynx are an iconic wild cat of high elevation, boreal, subalpine, and hardwood forests in North America. This gorgeous feline is well known to scores of ecology students who study its specialized predator-prey relationship with snowshoe hares. Intensive trapping has depleted lynx populations and habitat loss and degradation have confined the species to limited areas in the lower 48 states (the Northeast, Upper Great Lakes, the Northern Rocky Mountains, the Kettle and Wedge mountain ranges in Washington, the North Cascades and the Southern Rocky Mountains). Now federally protected, Canada lynx have a chance at recovery—but only where Endangered Species Act protections apply.
The lynx is a medium-sized cat (19-22 pounds) with long legs, large paws, long tufts on the ears, and a short, black-tipped tail. The lynx is often confused with the more widely ranging bobcat (Lynx rufus). The lynx is slightly larger than the bobcat, has grayish (rather than reddish) fur, less prominent spots, and a shorter tail. Bobcats also lack the lynx’s conspicuously long ear tufts.
Male lynx establish territories that typically encompass the ranges of multiple females and vary in size from 10 to almost 100 square miles, depending on habitat quality and prey availability. Females typically give birth to 1-4 kittens in spring that have beautiful, icy blue eyes. Kittens stay with their mother for the first year while they learn to hunt.
Lynx are heavily dependent on snowshoe hares. Both species are strongly associated with high elevation forests that have cold, snowy winters. Lynx have acute hearing, and their large, furry paws act as snowshoes, allowing the cat to track and capture the swift snowshoe hare in deep snow. These same qualities also give the lynx a competitive advantage over other predators, such as coyote, fox and bobcat. Hares use young forests with brushy understories, while lynx need old-growth forests with downed trees for denning and raising young. These matrix forest types are uncommon, threatened by logging and unnatural fire, and now face a new threat in climate change.
Canada lynx were federally protected as a “threatened” species in 14 states in 2000. Perhaps 1,000 lynx exist in the lower 48 states. Unfortunately, New Mexico was not included on the list. Any lynx that already occurs in the state, or which might migrate from Colorado, is not protected under the Endangered Species Act. This has hindered lynx conservation in New Mexico. In 2007, WildEarth Guardians and partners, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to add New Mexico to the list of protected states. The FWS eventually agreed with petitioners that lynx should be protected in New Mexico, but that adding the state to the list was precluded by other, higher priorities.
The FWS has also designated critical habitat for lynx in parts of the Northern Rockies, North Cascades, Upper Great Lakes (Minnesota) and the Northeast (Maine), totaling 25 million acres. Surprisingly, the agency did not designate critical habitat in Montana, Idaho, or Colorado, where the species is making a strong recovery. Recent litigation has forced the agency to reconsider designating additional critical habitat in these states.
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photo credit: Photos.com