Looking For Lynx Habitat

With thick fur and paws that work like snowshoes, the Canada lynx is a cat specialized for hunting in the snow. Already decimated by habitat destruction and overhunting, lynx are now facing the added danger of climate change, which may diminish their snowy habitats.

Earlier this spring a Public Interest Environmental Law Conference panel, “Return of the Missing Lynx: Helping a Formerly Banished Wildcat Reclaim Its Birthright in the West,” detailed the challenges that face lynx conservationists, while also questioning why lynx do not yet have a federal recovery plan, even after their Colorado listing as endangered in 1976 and their federal listing as threatened in 2000.

“There needs to be a recovery plan in place to get the lynx off the endangered species list,” said Paige Singer, a conservation biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild in Denver, Colo.

Singer described the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s program to restore lynx in the Southern Rocky Mountains. Since the start of the program in 1997, 218 lynx were released to the wild, and from 2000 to 2009, 126 wild lynx births were recorded. The Colorado Division of Wildlife deemed the program a success, and now they are shifting to a long-term monitoring program.

Although the restoration is a positive step forward, Singer said that lynx still need protection. Of the reintroduced lynx, 122 of them died, and 30 percent of those deaths were human-caused.

In 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service designated 39,000 square miles of critical habitat for lynx, but excluded the Southern Rockies from this protected land. “At Rocky Mountain Wild, we believe the Southern Rockies population is critical to restoration,” Singer said.

Matt Bishop, an attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), said that the federal mapping of lynx critical habitat resulted in “arbitrary distinctions based on Forest Service boundaries” not based on where the lynx actually live. Lynx require specific types of forests for habitat. Unlike wolves, lynx are highly adapted to wintry, snowy conditions, making the selection of their critical habitat even more important.

Bishop said he wants to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare a recovery plan for the lynx and revise its critical habitat ruling. WELC filed a federal lawsuit in mid-March to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to finish its long-awaited recovery plan for the wintry feline.