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Federal officials propose a recovery plan for the snow-dependent and climate-threatened lynx

A bright-eyed lynx sits on a snow-covered branch in front of a wintry scene.
Cloudtail the Snow Leopard
Flickr Creative Commons

News Brief: 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a plan to help federally “threatened” Canada lynxes in the Lower 48. Officials are warning that the snow-dependent species could lose much of its habitat – and face huge population declines – by the end of the century due to climate change.

The wild cats mostly live in Canada, but they also currently live in five parts of the continental U.S., including Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Maine, New Hampshire and Minnesota. They’ve also been documented traveling through the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and often occupy federal lands.

Compared to similar species like bobcats, lynxes are more adapted to deep snow environments in high alpine forests. Their main prey, the snowshoe hare, lives in similar habitats.

“The feet are much bigger. The legs are substantially longer. Those are really adaptations that give them an advantage in snow over other predators,” said Jake Marsh, a field supervisor in Montana for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

But deep snow may be harder to come by in the next few decades as the planet warms. Federal officials recently listed an animal that prefers a similar ecosystem – wolverines – as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. For the Canada lynx, officials are expecting population declines, though areas in the Northern Rockies could remain viable for a longer period of time.

“Our goal really is to see how lynx respond over the next 20 years as their habitats are changing due to climate effects. And to see if we can maintain resiliency in the face of that threat,” Martin said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service plan will cost around $31 million and sets the goal of maintaining 95 percent of the current lynx habitat – including a potential establishment of a permanent population around Yellowstone National Park. The money will mostly go toward monitoring and maintaining habitats. Other more drastic measures, such as colonization in other locations, are a long ways off. Officials say any delisting will also likely take multiple decades.

The Canada lynx was originally listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2000, and multiple presidential administrations and lawyers have fought over the status of the animal since then.

The draft recovery plan is available now, and interested parties can submit comments through January 30, 2024 at CanadaLynxRPComments@fws.gov.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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