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4 Canada lynx, likely kittens, documented in Cos County

December 14, 2011
PITTSBURG State Fish and Game biologists have confirmed the presence of four Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) in northern New Hampshire. The fact that the lynx appeared to be kittens is evidence that the wild cats are breeding in the Granite State, an expansion of the population across the border in Maine.

This month and last, four lynx were seen and photographed in two locations in the state's most northern town on two different dates. It is not known whether the four individuals were the same on both occasions, but Fish and Game believes it likely, based on the close proximity of the sightings.

"The presence of lynx in New Hampshire demonstrates the effectiveness of the wildlife and habitat work that's been done in this region over many years; it's exciting!" said Region I Fish and Game wildlife biologist Will Staats. "We expected the population to expand into the state eventually, and we've been seeing signs for a few years that they were at least passing through."

Since 2006, there have been seven cases where lynx tracks have been seen and photographed in New Hampshire's North Country, including in Pittsburg and Jefferson. Staats himself witnessed an adult lynx crossing a rural road up north this spring.

"This is very good, very exciting news," said retired Region I Fish and Game Lt. Eric Stohl of Columbia, also a retired state representative, in a Friday evening telephone interview. "I've never seen a Canada lynx, except mounted or in a photograph, but they are magnificent. I always pile up my discarded Christmas trees in my field to provide a home for snowshoe hares into which coyotes cannot penetrate; now I can hope that someday these rabbits will attract Canada lynx. The Department should never let the public know where these animals were seen."

"Until now, we've considered lynx in New Hampshire to represent animals that were wandering from the larger lynx population that is present in Maine as a result of recent declines in snowshoe hare abundance," said biologist Anthony Tur of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS). Lynx are highly reliant on snowshoe hare as a food source. There are an estimated 600 to 1,200 lynx in Maine, concentrated in the northern part of the state.

"Lynx are an amazing predator, and they were historically a small but significant part of the wildlife mix in New Hampshire," said Steve Weber, Chief of Fish and Game's wildlife division. "We're actively monitoring lynx in the state and taking steps to ensure the health and growth of the population," he said, noting that the state agency is working in partnership with the USF&WS.

"Serendipitously, Fish and Game's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program recently received funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to initiate formal surveys for lynx," said John Kanter, Nongame and Endangered Wildlife coordinator. "The sightings add a note of excitement to our efforts. The Nongame Program's recent fundraising appeal centered on the lynx project, and the timing of this discovery will hopefully help to engage more wildlife enthusiasts as supporters and donors to the program. While we've been planning for next steps with lynx conservation, the Lynx themselves have been busy with their own plans. The word from Region 1 is that there are photo-verified kittens in Pittsburg."

Lynx are listed as "endangered" in New Hampshire and as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act. They occurred in small numbers in New Hampshire through the 1960s; the last documented lynx in New Hampshire was a road-killed animal found in 1993.

At about 3 feet long and weighing 15 to 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. Because of lynx's reliance on snowshoe hare, their preferred habitat is young, regenerating forests that offer excellent hare habitat.

New Hampshire is at the southern end of the Canada lynx's natural range.

"This is terrific news for New Hampshire!" said Daryl Burtnett, N.H. State Director of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), in a prepared statement. "It's been nearly 70 years since we've had a breeding population of lynx. Their return is a testament to the successful habitat conservation efforts that N.H. Fish and Game, TNC, private landowners, and many others have accomplished in Pittsburg and elsewhere in Cos County. The fact that these great cats — 'apex predators' — have returned to roam our state's Great North Woods is a testament to nature's resilience and reminds us that when we give nature a chance, great things happen."

More information on lynx in the U. S. may be found at library.fws.gov/Pubs/lynx.pdf.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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