A PLACE FOR LYNX
On March 24 the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed Canada lynx in the contiguous United States as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This is a triumphant achievement, indeed, but one that did not pursue a straight path to protection.
Since 1991, when the lynx was first petitioned to the agency for protection under the ESA, at least three court cases have been brought against the USFWS, each finding in favor of conservation groups, challenging the agency s reluctance to list the Canada lynx, despite recognition by USFWS from the outset that the lynx was in jeopardy.
Lynx canadensis, Canada lynx, is a true holdout. In much of its northern forest habitat the lynx is now a ghost-- its wild whisper barely roams the deepest shadows of the wildest mountains in Utah, the High Uintas. While the lynx historically was found in portions of the Bear River and Wasatch Mountains, the primary habitat for lynx in Utah has always been the Uintas.
Similar to a bobcat, but slightly larger (the general range of lynx is 20-25 pounds), with sharply tufted ears, a black-tipped tail, long hind legs and large-furred paws, the lynx is a true forest dwelling cat. Its paws allow the lynx to survive in high mountains and northern latitudes covered by deep snows for significant periods of the year.
In northern boreal forests of Alaska, Canada and parts of Montana, the lynx feeds primarily on snowshoe hares and often exhibits a deeply cyclic population rhythm. Moving further south into the Cascades, much of the Northern Rockies and here in the central/Southern Rockies, lynx habitat is crucially important but often referred to as suboptimal simply because snowshoe hares are not as common. Here the lynx survives on numerous other small mammals and even some birds. It exhibits a more complex interaction with a prey base, thus its densities remain inherently low.
Lynx are deep forest dwellers, inhabiting old growth forests where downed logs and windfalls provide cover, thermal protection, denning sites and protection from the ever-threatening cougar and other large predators. A wide extent of forest conditions ranging from early to mid-successional forests harbor snowshoe hares so important for lynx. Other small mammals upon which lynx prey here in the spruce/fir forests and upper lodgepole pine forests of Utah and the West also depend upon old growth forests.
".... In the north, we've heard, the lynx wanders like silk on the deep hillsides of snow - blazing, it lounges in trees as thick as castles, as cold as iron..." Mary Oliver
Lynx are typically wide ranging predators. Just how wide ranging is one of the reasons that the lynx is now listed as a threatened species. Lynx in the contiguous United States are part of a large metapopulation with the core population in Canada. Significant questions exist as to how lynx populations are maintained in the patchy spruce/fir forests of the western United States. Are these populations periodically enhanced by lynx from the Canadian boreal forests as they reach a high point in their cycling populations, or are the populations that now exist in the Rocky Mountains and Cascades maintained in various source and sink habitats? It is abundantly clear that habitat fragmentation is a crucial issue. Lynx must be able to move. It is this reason, more than any other, that has created its listing under the ESA.
It is imperative Forest Service planners bring forth uniform standards to protect wild areas and make sure those high elevation wild areas are connected so that lynx populations can survive and assure persistence of the species across its native homeland. Logging, road building, trapping, winter recreation, primarily snowmobiling/ ski development, but in some cases crosscountry skiing, all play a role in anthropogenic fragmentation of already naturally fragmented habitats. These are the issues that must be dealt with to assure Canada lynx, a Utah native, will be able to continue to call the Uintas home.
Editor's Note: In the next issue of The LYNX, we will address the Endangered Species Act as it relates to the Colorado River and Bonneville cutthroat trout and movement of Yellowstone wolves into the High Uintas.