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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Maine: Rising Temperatures and Declining Snowfall Spell Trouble for Canada Lynx

A Canada lynx prowling in snow

If snow cover decreases in Maine, the lynx may lose its competitive advantage over other predators. Photo: USFWS.

Photo iconPhotos: See photos from the Canada lynx den study

Video iconVideo: Biologists studying lynx dens in Maine

Canada lynx are uniquely suited for the rigors of life in snowy northern Maine. The furry feline’s thick coat, long, lean legs and massive paws allow it to hunt atop snowpack like a cat on snowshoes. But with temperatures predicted to rise in the coming years, the deep snow cover that the lynx depends on may be significantly reduced, eliminating its competitive advantage over other predators.

While the historic range of Canada lynx used to extend throughout much of the northern United States and the Rockies, today the cat is confined to handful of northern states. Northern Maine currently supports the only viable lynx population in the United States east of the Mississippi River.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially listed Canada lynx as a threatened species in 13 states in 2000. As a federally threatened species whose range has already been greatly diminished, this rare wildcat faces a grave threat in climate change.

“It is hypothesized that as the climate warms, the lynx range will recede and move north,” said John Organ, chief of Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration for the Service in the Northeast Region. “Without significant snow cover, Maine’s lynx population could be in jeopardy.”


A USFWS employee weighs a baby lynx
Dr. John Organ weighs a lynx kitten during a den survey. Photo: USFWS.

“Lynx are uniquely sensitive to climate change based on their physical attributes,” said Chris Hoving, Endangered Species Coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment. “Their preferred habitat requires at least 2.7 meters of average annual snowfall. If snowfall decreases, there may be almost no suitable habitat in Maine, where the only verifiable lynx population on the East Coast exists.”

Just as the success of the Canada lynx is tied to snow depth, it is also tied to the animal’s primary food source - snowshoe hare. The Canada lynx is so effective at hunting the widely available snowshoe hare that it has little need to hunt anything else. But as temperatures rise and snowfall drops, bobcats, fishers and other predators may adapt better to the climate changes and availability of other prey, out-competing the Canada lynx in northern Maine.

State and federal conservation agencies are developing strategies to maintain Maine’s lynx population. Part of that includes providing ample habitat for the snowshoe hare.

A tagged baby lynx
Lynx kitten with ear tag for future identification. Photo: USFWS.
A lynx chasing a white hare
Lynx are so well suited to hunt the snowshoe hare they have little need to feed on anything else. Photo: Tom Brakefield.

“As the hare goes, so goes the lynx,” said Organ. “Providing guidance to land managers – within the context of larger biodiversity concerns – is critical to the success of lynx and all species.”

Chris Hoving says a forest of diverse habitats -- those in different stages of succession and in blocks large enough for area-sensitive species -- will provide the greatest benefit to all forms of wildlife. While many conservationists focus on protecting large blocks of mature forest, a number of species, including Canada lynx, need large blocks of young forest as well. 

“Managed forests respond less severely to climate change than unmanaged,” said Hoving. “Through management, we can reduce the forest’s rate of change and soften the blow of climate change to a variety of species.”


Authors: Bill Butcher, Bill_Butcher@fws.gov, and Frank Wolff


  • John Organ, USFWS, 413-253-8501 John_Organ@fws.gov
  • Terri Edwards, USFWS, 413-253-8324 Terri_Edwards@fws.gov

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Thanks so much. I never realized the impact of junk "science" before and USFWS has determined themselves promoters of Junk Science. Only magicians tell you to watch one hand while the other is....., doing what, USFWS. Too many contradictions piled upon another is marking you to get out of fairy tale business to promote your own fraud.

Thanks, but no thank you.
# Posted By ar | 5/16/11 1:27 PM

I remember when wildlife was managed using science, not computer modeling based on what ifs and flim flam theories such as global warming. This just looks like an attempt by the USFW to shore up the unneeded listing of the Lynx in Maine.
# Posted By KurtJLane | 5/16/11 1:38 PM

Quit sticking your head in the sand folks! Scientists all over the rest of the world recognize climate change as a problem...what eliminates to our fellow inhabitants on earth will surely eliminate us unless we change our selfish use of precious,limited resources.
# Posted By Bobbie | 5/16/11 9:00 PM

So how is annual snowfall specifically tied to Lynx feeding on hare? What do Lynx feed on in summer months? Are they out competed by fox fishers etc.in summer? How about owls that have adapted to deep snows by flying. Will they soon out compete Lynx? Shame on you!
# Posted By Tom | 7/12/11 9:47 AM

People are idiots. Obviously the Canada Lynx is in danger!! Maine is helping them by creating a critcal habitat for them :)
# Posted By Alexis | 10/18/11 2:29 PM

Yes they are, aren't they. Especialy
the ones that belive what they are told and don't bother to look for facts. Like the fact that the lynx was listed by drawing a political line between Canada and the US.That the lynx pop. has always shifted in it's southern most range. Always.
That Maine was forced by USFW to designate" critical habitat" I could go on, but I've wasted enough time. Research next time.
# Posted By KurtJLane | 10/20/11 5:09 PM
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