Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Researchers Track Canada Lynx in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom

Canada lynx are appearing in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Although only four confirmed sightings occurred in the state from the late 1700s to the early 2000s, lynx sightings have been on the increase every year since 2003. The department is conducting surveys to determine the full extent and distribution of lynx in Vermont.

A large, carnivorous feline species, Canada lynx are rarely seen because they are nocturnal and secretive. They are similar to bobcats in appearance, but lynx have larger bodies and longer ear tufts than bobcats. The easiest way to distinguish a lynx from a bobcat is by the lynx’s solid black-tipped tail and enormous, furry paws.

According to Chris Bernier, biologist for Vermont Fish & Wildlife and the lynx survey leader, most confirmed lynx sightings have been on publicly owned lands in the Nulhegan Basin at Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. “Lynx require specific habitat to thrive,” said Bernier. “These large, unbroken tracts of mixed-conifer forest are perfect for this species and their primary prey, the snowshoe hare. We were all very excited when lynx sightings started popping up again in Vermont.”

Lynx are listed as ‘threatened’ under the Federal Endangered Species Act and as ‘endangered’ under Vermont’s Endangered Species Law. State and federal biologists elsewhere in the country have worked to stop the loss of quality lynx habitat that was driving local population declines, so Vermont’s biologists were encouraged to see lynx recolonize the state naturally. “It speaks to the success of our habitat conservation efforts in the state,” said Bernier.

The surveys are being conducted in partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and include the help of volunteers including members of the Vermont Trappers Association. “The support and participation of Vermont’s trappers have been invaluable in this effort,” said Bernier. “They are our eyes and ears on the landscape. We’re working with the Vermont Trappers Association to identify appropriate conservation measures for this species in the state.”

Bernier believes the Nulhegan Basin lynx have formed a reproducing, resident population that likely dispersed from Maine following a boom in the lynx population in that state. His team has also conducted surveys in similar habitat in nearby Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area but has not detected lynx there.

Fish & Wildlife Department Deputy Commissioner Kim Royar, who previously led the furbearer project, says that the department is also partnering with New Hampshire Fish & Game, in addition to wildlife agencies in Ontario and Quebec. “We view lynx conservation as a regional effort,” she said. “To move freely, wide-ranging species such as lynx require the conservation of large blocks of forested habitat connected by travel corridors. They range across several states and provinces, transcending political boundaries.”

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