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Canada Lynx Coming Back to Vermont
by Jennifer Linforth and Rachel Cliche
Photo credit: USFWS
What were lynx doing in Vermont last year? Just passing through? Or are they here to stay?
The answers to these questions will help biologists determine the role of the Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in managing the future of these nocturnal and secretive creatures. Here, at the southernmost tip of their range, Canada lynx can find pockets of the specific mixed-conifer forest they need to thrive.
Historically, only four confirmed sightings of the notoriously rare lynx occurred in Vermont from the late 1700s to early 2000s. Their status led to protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2000. But since 2003, sightings have continued to increase—most of which have been on public lands in the Nulhegan Basin.
A combination of the right balance of habitat, deep snow and an abundance of prey made the basin the targeted location for an in-depth, systematic survey of lynx in the state.
So in the winter of 2012, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and Silvio O. Conte refuge staff set out to track a 26,000-acre division where lynx were confirmed. Surveys like this aim to determine the full extent and distribution of lynx in Vermont.
Photo used with permission of Keith Williams / Creative Commons
Using snowmobiles, biologists surveyed a total of 71 kilometers of transects for lynx tracks. How they surveyed was critical:
- Technicians worked within 48 hours of a fresh snowfall to give the lynx time to lay fresh, easily detectable tracks.
- The division was surveyed by snowmobile, including active snowmobile trails, and roads closed to recreational snowmobiles, to cover as much area as possible.
- Each intercepted lynx track was measured, logged via GPS, direction of travel indicated and then photographed. Other species were recorded as well, including bobcat, fisher, and the lynx’s primary food source, the snowshoe hare.
- DNA material from scat and fur was also collected for analysis, and the entire survey was designed to be completed within 10 hours of its commencement to maintain the integrity of the project.
Eight lynx track intercepts were recorded in February and March of 2012. Some of the track patterns showed four individuals traveling together—suggesting an adult female and her kittens. A family group was documented again in 2013, confirming the presence of a breeding population of lynx in northeast Vermont.
“Federal and state biologists continue to work together to determine the occurrence of lynx in other areas of northeast Vermont, as well as to obtain a better understanding of snowshoe hare populations in the state,” says biologist Rachel Cliche with the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. “This information will help us be more proactive in our lynx conservation efforts.”
Lynx likely dispersed from Maine following a population boom there. While this is encouraging, predictions of warming temperatures and reduced snowfall in the coming years may cause the range of the lynx to shift northward toward more suitable habitat and less competition with fisher and bobcat.
Jennifer Linforth, with the Division of Program and Partnership Support in the Service's headquarter's office in Arlington, VA, can be reached at email@example.com Rachel Cliche at the Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge can be reached at Rachel_Cliche@fws.gov.
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