The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 16 - 12/16/99
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Only known lynx in Wyoming are found in Sublette County's Wyoming Range
by Rob Shaul
By January 8, 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether or not the Canadian lynx warrants listing as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The only population of lynx in the state is found in the Wyoming Range in Sublette County. Consequently, listing the lynx could have significant impacts on snowmobiling, logging and drilling in Sublette County.
15-20 Lynx "at most" in Wyoming Range
According to Wyoming Game & Fish Department Biologist Tom Laurion, there are currently "at most" 15-20 lynx roaming in the Wyoming Range along the Piney front. Mr. Laurion gave a presentation on his lynx research in Pinedale last Thursday.
Mr. Laurion has been studying lynx in Wyoming since 1996 when he was asked by the forest supervisor for the Shoshoni National Forest to search for evidence of lynx and wolverines. That winter, Mr. Laurion spent 2,700 miles on a snowmachine in the forest and came across just one set of wolverine tracks.
The biologist decided to do some research, and looking through old state trapping records, discovered that most of the lynx in Wyoming were trapped along the Piney front of the Wyoming Range in Sublette County. Prior to 1973, lynx were classified as a predator by the Wyoming Game & Fish and could be taken without any restriction. This changed in 1973 when the state gave the lynx protected status, and ended trapping.
In Sublette County Mr. Laurion talked to Bucky Neely, who in 1972 trapped 13 lynx. He also spoke to Louie Roberts, who told him to look for tracks near Pass Creek. After months of searching unsuccessfully, and with Mr. Roberts' help, Mr. Laurion found his first set of lynx tracks.
Mr. Laurion tried to trap the lynx unsuccessfully before calling on Piney's George Hook and his hounds. In December 1996, Mr. Hook's hounds treed a male lynx in the Wyoming Range, which Mr. Laurion tranquilized and radio-collared. A female was treed and radio-collared in March of 1997.
Survival Depends on Snowshoe Hares
Lynx survival and population numbers depends on the number of snowshoe hares in the area says Mr. Laurion. During the summer food is abundant for the cats, but in the winter, lynx are almost entirely dependent on snowshoe hares for food. Mr. Laurion says a lynx needs to kill and eat one hare every day and a half to survive.
The number of lynx, continues Mr. Laurion, is directly related to the snowshoe hare population. The more snowshoe hares, the more lynx. It's pretty much that simple. Lynx' dependence on snowshoe hares restricts the habitat in which they live continues Mr. Laurion. They're limited to between 7,800 and 9,500 feet along a band of boreal forest where snowshoe hares live.
One of the problems in Wyoming, says Mr. Laurion, is that there aren't that many snowshoe hares. He currently estimates that in the Wyoming Range, there are 1.5 hares per hectare - or about the size of a football field. In Canada and Alaska, which both have large lynx populations, hare numbers can be as high as 25 hares per hectare.
Snowshoe hares depend on young timbered forests with a good understudy, says Mr. Laurion. They favor feeding on young ponderosa pine in the winter and need understudy for cover from predators. One of the problems in the Wyoming Range, he continues, is that the habitat has been "fragmented" over they years through logging. Also, fire suppression has allowed trees to get older and has decreased understudy.
The male lynx Mr. Laurion radio-collared had a home range of approximately 55 square miles, he said, which is "huge." He assumed this was because of the few snowshoe hare and other prey available for the cat to eat - the lynx had to "keep moving" to survive.
Logging and Snowmobiling
Logging can negatively impact hare habitat, says Mr. Laurion, and thus can impact lynx. Especially harmful are clearcuts which don't leave any understudy and cuts good current hare habitat.
Snowmobiling can also impact lynx numbers. Mr. Laurion describes snowmobile trails and tracks as "highways for small feet." Coyotes and bobcats are able to hunt in the lynx's territory in the winter because they use the snowmobile trails to travel on the snow. Lynx have huge feet, which allows them to walk on deep snow without punching through. Coyotes and bobcats can't do this.
The theory is that coyotes and bobcats also prey on snowshoe hares and therefore compete with lynx for food. Subsequently, the lynx are "displaced" and must leave to eat.
Mr. Laurion was asked directly if he felt listing the lynx would result in a snowmobile ban on the Wyoming Range. "No," he responded, "but I can see some limitations." For example, Mr. Laurion can see the forest service limiting the creation of any new maintained snowmobile trails as a way to protect the cats from further competition with coyotes and bobcats.
Were there ever a lot of lynx here?
One of the questions surrounding listing in Wyoming is the question of whether or not lynx numbers are actually down from historic levels. According to a story in the March, 1995, Wyoming Wildlife, since 1856, there have been only 265 reports of lynx in Wyoming, of which only 21 have been confirmed.
One of the things Mr. Laurion is investigating is a comparison of the genetic diversity between today's lynx population and that of years ago. He is doing this using DNA from the hair of lynx pelts taken when trapping was allowed and comparing that to DNA taken from the hair of animals today. The goal is to compare the genetic diversity of historic lynx populations in Wyoming to today's population.
Importantly, while lynx are rare in Wyoming, they are very abundant in the rolling forests of Canada and Alaska. Between 1951 and 1983, Hudson Bay Company's fur buyers in Canada handled an average of 26,000 lynx pelts per year.
Forest Service & USFWS Tightlipped
Both the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were tightlipped concerning lynx listing and possible impacts. Jill Parker with the Fish and Wildlife regional office in Denver wouldn't tip her hat as to her agency's decision or whether or not the cat would be listed as threatened or endangered.
Big Piney District Forest Ranger Greg Clark has seen the draft conservation plan for the lynx but wouldn't comment on it because he hasn't read the final plan yet. Listing the lynx "will probably change some things we do, but how severe, I don't know," he said. Concerning snowmobiling, Mr. Clark doesn't anticipate a restriction on current snowmobiling activity, but said that anytime the use was increased, the agency would have to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Photo credits: Photo Courtesy Bucky Neely
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