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Assessing the status of Canada lynx in the Kettle River Mountain Range

This project was a continuation of a 2016 CREOi award. Canada lynx, one of three wild cat species native to Washington State, depend on large pristine tracts of boreal forest habitat with ample snowshoe hare and persistent deep snow. In Washington, lynx populations steeply declined due to trapping and habitat degradation and they were afforded federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2000. Numerous studies suggest that the persistence of lynx in Washington will depend on maintaining the connected network of populations across Washington, and north into British Columbia. While a number of surveys have documented lynx presence and density across suitable habitat in the Cascade Mountains, there is relatively little information about the population status of the species outside of the Cascades. The Kettle River Mountain Range, or ‘Kettles’, occupy northeast Washington State and form an important east-west bridge for meta-populations of lynx and other wide-ranging species that occupy both the Cascades and Rocky Mountains. When lynx were federally listed, one-third of the Kettles’ lynx management areas contained lynx. Despite this and the fact that several modeling exercises have pointed to the importance of the Kettles for lynx conservation, the area has been left out of recent critical habitat designations.

To assess the status of the species in the region, this project conducted a systematic survey for lynx throughout the Kettles. From late May through early October in 2016 and 2017, we completed 225 camera deployments to sample 40×40 km hexagonal grids for at least 60 days each. While the density of lynx appears to be low, we have confirmed the presence of at least two individuals at four camera stations. One individual was surveyed at multiple stations and in the same grid in both 2016 and 2017. This individual was centrally located in the study site and we believe is resident in Washington State. This result confirms the presence of lynx, albeit in very low densities, in the Kettles. This information is guiding land managers and the interagency Lynx Working Group, who had been considering conducting translocations into the Kettles. We have also secured abundant data on other species, including bobcat, cougar, coyote, wolf, moose, elk, deer, badger and bear. The Colville National Forest (CNF) has proposed adopting our protocol for conducting long-term, multiple species monitoring of mammals. CNF has experienced many large burns in recent years and is experimenting with a variety of restoration and treatment effects. Data from this study were presented to land managers from throughout the region at a meeting in October 2017 and will be used to guide future management options, contribute valuable information for recovery planning, and establish a monitoring baseline.

Finally, in January 2018 and citing lynx recovery in the lower 48 states, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced their intentions to remove Endangered Species protections for Canada lynx.  This announcement initiates development of a proposed rule to delist the species and will trigger a comment period. Our study provides the best available information on lynx for one of seven Core Areas in the lower 48 states and will thus contribute meaningful information to the review process. ($20,000)