Tuesday, April 24, 2012

CANADA LYNX: Threatened or Endangered

     Walking behind my cabin this morning to check out the roaring rill after our major April rainstorm, I came face to face with a Canada Lynx. He didn't hear my quiet footsteps since gurgling water was right under his tufted ears. We both stood there, frozen in place, pondering what next to do. The Lynx and I were a mere twenty feet apart. He was standing on the upper hill looking downward and facing me. I was looking uphill directly into his wolf-gray face. Reminded me somewhat of an owl too.

     I made a hissing noise, twice, and he didn't blink or move; so I lifted my walking stick, waved my arms and hissed even louder. In a split second, he turned around went back up the walking path, and darted further uphill. After about five seconds, and his getting totally out of sight, he let out three very loud 'complaining' shrieks. I believe he was telling me that he wasn't pleased with me invading his territory.

     Fish and Wildlife Service [FWS] claims that here in Maine we have little to no Canada Lynx population. But I beg to differ. Thirty years ago, our daughter said to me just before she left for school one Spring morning: "Dad, look at the big cat in our drive." I looked out the front windows and beheld a Canada Lynx sauntering across the drive without a care in this world. You can't miss identifying them, as they have black-hair tufts on the tip of their ears. Lynx have a bobbed or short tail and have very heavy-looking legs with monstrous paws. The Lynx uses his paws in snow to keep atop the mounds to run like lightning in catching snowshoe hares.

     This morning's Lynx meeting out back of the cabin was a sight I will long remember. There is something about the wildness of the Maine woods which is akin to being dirt-humbled before the vastness, variety and splendor of our Maker's designs. Didn't have a camera with me... and Lynx photos are easily accessed from the National Geographic Society.
     FWS in 2009 announced a revised critical habitat designation for the Canada Lynx that marks a twentyfold expansion over a Bush-era designation. The service set aside 39,000 square miles of forest in Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington. The decision reverses a 2006 designation that enraged environmentalists by declaring 1,841 square miles of habitat for the Lynx.

     Critical habitat was limited to lands that Lynx currently occupy or have occupied in the recent past. Conservation groups were also hoping to see critical habitat designated in sections of Colorado's southern Rockies, where state wildlife officials have been reintroducing Lynx since 1999 after the local population went extinct in the 1970s. FWS officials say they are not sure the state's habitat can support a Lynx population, and without that knowledge, it would be premature to designate the area as critical habitat.

     The Canada Lynx was listed as "threatened" on the endangered species list in 2000 following a lawsuit from environmental groups. Because the reclusive cats depend on large, contiguous tracts of boreal forests to survive, their population has plummeted as timber harvests and development have destroyed or disconnected the forests. An estimated 1,000 Lynx remain in the wild, according to FWS estimates.

     Canada lynx range from 30 to 35 inches in length and weigh between 18 and 23 pounds. The cat is distinguished by its pointy ears and its broad paws and long legs that allow it to stay above snow drifts while hunting snowshoe hares.

     Seeing one of the 1,000 remaining Canada Lynx directly around my cabin -- twice so far -- are thrills long to be remembered.

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