Fresh Tracks Indicate Rare Canada Lynx

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Professional trackers have identified the tracks of an endangered Canada lynx in Jefferson, N.H. The trackers made the discovery while working on a New Hampshire Audubon project studying the behavior of wildlife crossing US Route 2 in Jefferson and Randolph.

Mark Elbroch, lead tracker for the N.H. Audubon project, and Rose Graves, project assistant, say the tracks show that the lynx crossed the highway on the night of January 26, 2006, heading north. The trackers spotted the cat's tracks in fresh snow the following morning, and followed the trail leading to and from the road. "Based on the characteristics of the trail, I'd say this lynx was probably just passing through the area," said Elbroch, who has tracked professionally for many years. There is no evidence that the lynx that created the tracks is a New Hampshire resident.

Canada lynx, which are listed as "endangered" in New Hampshire and as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act, occurred in small numbers in New Hampshire through the 1960s. Michael Amaral of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes that the nearest known breeding population of Canada lynx is in Maine; he said that some radio-collared Maine lynx "have been radio-tracked more than 200 miles, so New Hampshire is well within the dispersal distance of known lynx populations in Maine." The last documented lynx in New Hampshire was a road-killed animal found in the early 1990s. Amaral has made a couple of tracking trips in recent years to follow up on credible reports of lynx in New Hampshire; of the recent track discovery, he said, "I wish it had been me!"

Amaral describes prime lynx habitat as being primarily forested landscape with a diversity of (tree) age classes. "Lynx require snowshoe hare, so habitat like beaver flowages with shrubby edges that support snowshoe populations are key to their survival. The most important habitat factor is regenerating forest -- whether it's been harvested or naturally set back by fire, insect outbreaks, or gaps created by old trees falling." New Hampshire still has substantial habitat fitting this description; so, although the entire state is at the southern end of the Canada lynx's natural range, it's not impossible that they could once again become established here in small numbers.

At about 3 feet long and 15-30 pounds, Canada lynx are at least twice the size of the average house cat. They have long, strong legs; short tails; prominent ear tufts; and long sideburn-style hair on the sides of their face. Lynx are often recognized by their huge, furry paws, which help them travel over deep snow.

The US Route 2 and State Highway 115 Wildlife Crossing Investigation has been funded to date by the Merck Family Foundation. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and the N.H. Department of Transportation have pending fiscal and Governor & Council requests to continue the N.H. Audubon project. The purpose of the project is to gain information about wildlife movements up to, across and away from US Route 2 and Route 115 within the study area. This information can then be used to help reduce traffic/wildlife conflicts in the area and other parts of Northern New England with similar habitat and traffic conditions. The project began in December, 2005, and data will be collected through June, 2006. To date, more than 3,000 highway crossings have been recorded in the study area by a combination of deer, moose, coyotes, red fox, grey fox, fisher, bobcat, otter and now Canada lynx.

New Hampshire Audubon is an independent statewide membership organization whose mission is to protect New Hampshire's natural environment for wildlife and for people. It operates five nature centers throughout the state that provide educational programs for children and adults. It is also involved in statewide conservation research and wildlife monitoring projects, protects thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, and advocates for sound public policy on environmental issues. For information on New Hampshire Audubon, including membership, volunteering, programs, and publications, call (603) 224-9909 or go to www.nhaudubon.org.