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Where Are the Missing Lynx?

Posted by struscott | March 27, 2011
Using box cages baited with raw meat, wild lynx are trapped just long to attach a GPS collar, and then are released unharmed into the wild.

With only an estimated 30 lynx left in the Pacific Northwest, a recovery team led by Washington State University researchers is fueled with a sense of urgency.
The lynx recovery program, recently coordinated by WSU researcher Rob Wielgus, as associate professor in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences, brings together researchers, scientists and funding support from Washington State University, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Washington Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Washington, and Seattle City Light.

The team has been tracking lynx for years, but at the end of January began increasing trapping to define the current lynx population and ultimately to help the species recover. Most of the lynx they’ve tracked so far have been males, Wielgus said.

“We know we have females, but we want to get a better idea of the numbers,” he said. “We want to know if they are successfully reproducing and having kittens here in Washington State.”

The team recently began trapping in Loomis State Forest and the Black Pine Basin in the northern part of Washington. The team also believes lynx were living in the Kettle Crest area, but have since been extirpated there.

Every morning, research teams check about 45 PVC-pipe and chicken wire box-traps in the study areas. If a lynx is found inside the trap, it is sedated for about 50 minutes, leaving enough time for researchers to slip a GPS-tracking collar around the cat’s neck.

As of mid-February, the team had trapped 12 new lynx and placed GPS-tracking devices around ten, said Gary Koehler, wildlife research scientists for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Ben Maletzke, a WSU researcher, said they are trying to save the collars for the females who will ultimately be needed for a species recovery. He said the mothers tend to avoid the traps to protect their kittens. The team trapped only one female last year.

Lynx kittens in their den.

Using GPS-tracking devices, the researchers are able to pinpoint six locations the lynx go throughout the day.

“Hopefully, we’ll get a location every four hours of where that lynx is and from that we can determine the habitats the animal is selecting and what forest conditions they need out on the landscape,” Maletzke said.

In 2006, a wildfire north of Okanogan wiped out a large part of lynx habitat, taking with it a substantial portion of the lynx population, Wielgus said. As climate changes, there is an increased likelihood of forest fires. That, coupled with the fact that boreal forests naturally burn, seriously threatens lynx habitat and their continued survival as a species. Therefore, Wielgus said he’d like to set up a series of large habitat islands.

“We’d like to establish a series of lynx preserves or lynx habitat islands, so if catastrophic wildfires take some of them out, the population isn’t extirpated,” he said.

The team will continue trapping until March. If all goes as planned, Wielgus said they hope to see significant gains in habitat and population management within the next four years.

“If I can demonstrate that these lynx are viable, that the females are reproducing successfully, then I think we stand a good chance of obtaining lynx from British Columbia for a transplant augmentation in the Kettle Crest sometime down the road,” he said.

-By Rachel Webber, WSU CAHNRS MNEC news writing intern