History of the Lynx
Fossil records suggest that the genus Lynx has origins in Africa (Lavivier & Walton 1997) and that all four species of lynx evolved from the Issoire Lynx (Lynx issiodorensis) which appeared during the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene (Sunquist & Sunquist). (Johnson, et al., 2006; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Zhou, et al., 2017). Although some scientists state that three lynx species inhabited Europe during the Pleistocene period (2.5mya-11,700ya) and only two species made it to the Holocene (10,000ya-present). The Lynx migrated into North America which gave rise to the Canada Lynx.
By 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife designated the Canada Lynx as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp/species/3652
By 2010, after an 11-year effort, the Canada Lynx was successfully introduced into Colorado where it had become extirpated in the 1970’s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynx
Also see new article Colorado Outdoors, By Zachary Aedo, December 16, 2020 10:46 am – https://krdo.com/lifestyle/colorado-outdoors/2020/12/16/stable-population-of-lynx-in-colorado-after-reintroduction-20-years-ago/?fbclid=IwAR3nR4w_0L6d_efKv-2xshlyhQ4930eLWWqB2obe33DUcz4rj1_8zE231kc
Canada Lynx – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_lynx
Lynx in New York State
In 1982, a study found that lynx restoration would be feasible in the Adirondack Park’s northeast sector. 83 animals from the Yukon Territory were released with radio collars during the winters of 1989-1991 (Gustafson 1991). It did not succeed in establishing a viable population. Out of 83 releases (48 females, 35 males), there were 32 known mortalities. Twelve were killed by vehicles, the largest single source of known mortality. Five died out of state, usually by accidental shooting. Three lynx were raiding livestock pens. Six animals were lost to miscellaneous causes. In one case, a young lynx was apparently killed by a large male lynx (Brocke and Gustafson 1992).
In a letter addressed to me from A. Major who participated in the NY Lynx Restoration Program,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Jan. 20, 2015
The 32 animals were those that we could confirm positively the cause of death. We had over a dozen animals disperse out of the area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick). There were another 15 animals where we recovered the collar, but no definitive evidence of what happened to the lynx. What happened to the remaining animals, we can only speculate. The batteries in their collars ran out and they disappeared into legend.
There were a number of reasons why the NY effort didn’t succeed. Our reintroduction techniques had never been tried with a mesocarnivore in North America before, so there were some mistakes made. Our initial contact with Canada anticipated that we would get our source animals from Ontario/Quebec since they were the closest genetically to those that would have been found in NY. Population numbers and politics made it so that we ended up going all the way to the Yukon Territory to get our source animals. Although 83 sounds like a lot of cats, the truth is that it wasn’t enough given our large mortality of the first few years.
The good news is that in 1999 Colorado started a reintroduction effort that took our efforts and improved on them. Some of us who worked on the NY project were used as consultants. They used the same trappers in the Yukon that we used since they had already been trained to live-trap lynx with minimal damage to the animals. They modified some of our protocols because of the lessons learned. Most importantly, they put out a LOT more lynx in better lynx habitat that we had in NY.
It was good to know that we were on the right track. The bottom line is that we had the right idea, but probably the wrong place.
Our largest lynx population in the Northeast is in Maine. A big reason is that there are large stands in ME that are still working forest. Having early recessional forest is critical for snowshoe hare populations. The NH and VT populations are very small, and we have the occasional lynx travel through northern NY.
We who grew up, and or moved to NY love our Adirondacks. We think of it as “wild”. The truth is that it’s not as wild as we think. Roads bisect each area, leaving a series of large “islands” of habitat. The restoration attempt taught us that the Adirondacks as they are currently provide only marginal lynx habitat at best. We would have to change our management strategy of large tracks of land in the Adirondacks to early successional stands in order to improve it for hares and for lynx. Since the forever wild provision precludes that and because the major timber interest in the Adirondacks have pulled out, the amount of habitat suitable for snowshoe hares has diminished. The other 800lb gorilla in the room is Climate Change. Our current models predict a rough time for all northern species in the Northeast, not just lynx. Get ready for range retraction for species such as Pine Martin, Moose, Loons, the northern forest warblers, etc.
You are also right about the bobcat population increasing in the Northeast. Since bobcats are generalists, they will outcompete a specialist like lynx. We’re just wrapping up a bobcat study in NH. Turns out that there are MANY more than we would have estimated at the beginning of the study.
We use a variety of methods to track lynx. ME has an ongoing lynx study that used radio telemetry to track their population in the past.
Due to budget constraints, we switched to a more lower cost but still effective monitoring techniques such as snow tracking, hair traps (those sticky pads that critters like lynx, bobcat, fox, coyote, etc. like to rub against), camera traps and scat collection for population monitoring.
Population status: ME – current estimate is 800-1,000 lynx. NH/VT – fluid, maybe 5-10 total. We’re approaching a snowshoe hare peak so we’re likely to sight more cats in VT/NH over the next few years. As far a critical habitat, we’ve covered about as much as we have in the Northeast. ME is definitely our “core” lynx area. The other states have some habitat at the very northern areas adjacent to Canada.
Lynx kitten FWS Maine, used with permission.
The Canada Lynx species description can be found here at https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/es/species/mammals/lynx/CandaLynxFactSheet_091613.pdf