AUGUSTA, Maine -- In the fifth year of an interagency study of Canada lynx in northwest Maine, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists this spring documented six dens containing nearly double the number of lynx kittens found in previous years. The lynx is listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 states under the federal Endangered Species Act.
"The size of the litters exceeded our expectations," said Service biologist Dr. John Organ. "We found five lynx kittens each in four of the dens. These are the largest litters we've seen in Maine."
According to USFWS and IFW biologists, the average litter size for 2003 is 4.3 kittens. The annual average from 1999 through 2002 ranged from 1.5 to 2.5 kittens per litter.
"We had expected the number of lynx to decrease over the next few years as a result of a decline we observed in the snowshoe hare population during the past two winters," said Maine DIFW biologist Jennifer Vashon. "Den production this spring suggests that Maine's lynx population may be reaching its peak. The data we collect over the next couple of years will be essential in determining if hare and lynx populations are cyclic."
Six of the eight radio-collared adult female lynx monitored by the biologists bore litters this year. The dens contained a total of 26 kittens - 12 females and 14 males. The biologists weighed, measured and marked each kitten with ear tags and passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags. They also collected hair samples for future genetic studies. Biologists will return later this summer when the dens are vacant to conduct detailed sampling of vegetation characteristics to further their understanding of lynx habitat requirements.
The Service and the Maine DIFW began studying lynx in the Allagash region of northern Maine in 1999 to learn more about the status of lynx populations in the state, and to determine what, if any, management actions would help conserve the species.
Biologists verified the existence of a resident population of lynx in Maine in the first year of the study when they documented a den with two kittens. To date, they have studied 23 litters totaling 63 kittens, and have captured and marked 93 lynx, including 32 radio-collared adult and sub-adult animals and 61 kittens.
The Maine lynx study occurs on private lands primarily owned and managed by industrial forest product companies. The landowners, as well as conservation organizations and other partners, have been very supportive of the interagency study.
If additional funding can be secured, the interagency study will continue for five more years, providing biologists with an opportunity to evaluate fluctuations in the lynx population and its food supply in relation to changing habitat conditions over time.
Canada lynx, a close relative of the bobcat of North America, the Iberian lynx of Spain, and the Eurasian lynx, are medium-sized wild cats that live in the extreme northern forests of North America. Canada lynx have large paws that function like snowshoes, allowing them to hunt in deep snow. The cats feed primarily on snowshoe hare and other small mammals and birds. According to Organ, one of the goals of the study is to investigate the role managed cutting of timber in northern Maine had in influencing conditions for snowshoe hare and, therefore, for lynx as well.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2000 listed the Canada lynx as a threatened species in 14 of the lower 48 states, the southern part of its historic range. A species is listed as threatened when it is likely to become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range in the foreseeable future.
The lynx's range extends from Alaska, throughout much of Canada, to the southern boreal and transitional forests in the northeastern United States, the Great Lakes, the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains. With the exception of Maine, it is believed that lynx populations have been extirpated in the northeast.
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