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Seeley Swan Study will focus on the...

 

Judge orders Fish & Wildlife
to review lynx endangerment

An Associated Press story by Scott Sonner reported this week
that a federal judge has ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to review its decision that the lynx is not endangered. Thirteen environmental groups had sued in January 1996 to force an endangered listing for the lynx when the Fish and Wildlife Service refused to list the lynx as endangered despite warnings from its own field offices. According to the AP story, the agency will have 60 days to re-evalute its decision against listing the lynx. The AP story said only a few hundred lynx are scattered around the U.S., with Montana harboring the largest population of 150 to 400.

 



Lynx will be focus of Seeley Swan study

by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
April 3, 1997

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, in cooperation with the Forest Service, will soon begin work on a comprehensive study of lynx in the Seeley Swan. The study area will include the Swan Valley south of Swan Lake, all of the Clearwater Valley, and the Blackfoot Valley south of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Although the image of a tuft-eared lynx in pursuit of a snowshoe hare has become symbolic of Canada's north woods, the elusive cats have received very little attention in Montana, except from trappers and conservationists.

Last month, more than thirty Swan Valley residents attended a program and slide show about lynx sponsored by a new Swan Valley business called Northwest Connections, (see related article) and the Swan Valley Ecosystem Management and Learning Center at Condon.

Lynx are often called the wildcats of the northwoods, and are closely related to bobcats. However, the two cats differ in many ways. Lynx are usually mottled grey with sometimes the faintest barring. Bobcats are spotted. Lynx prefer wetter, shadier habitat. In addition, lynx are almost entirely dependent upon one type of food: the snowshoe hare.

According to wildlife biologist John Weaver, who presented the slide show and lecture at the Swan Valley Community Hall in February, the lynx is uniquely designed to hunt bunnies, and the snowshoe hare is always trying to stay one step ahead of the lynx.

The design of a lynx' body "is geared toward keeping the animal on top of the snow," Weaver said. Several unique adaptations, such as the design of its feet, enable the cat to chase snowshoe hares.

"If we humans had feet in proportion to the rest of our body like a lynx, one foot would be 22 inches long," Weaver explained. "That's about what Shaquille O'Neal has."

The front paws of a lynx are "sort of like a catcher's mitt" with webbing in between the toes. "They are truly like a snowshoe," he said. For example, a lynx does not sink into the snow like a mountain lion or bobcat. The underside of a lynx paw looks like "short, clipped acrylic carpet," Weaver explained. That's why lynx tracks in the snow are distinct, but usually lack distinctive toe pads.

The lynx' lean frame also helps it stay on top of the snow. These cats develop a thick fur coat in the fall, but apparently gain very little weight.

Weaver is a field researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society, and has conducted groundbreaking studies of lynx in Northwestern Montana in cooperation with the Forest Service and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. As part of his research, Weaver has raised a female lynx in captivity for the past five years. The experience, he said, has provided closer insights into lynx behavior, allowing him to develop new methods for gathering information about lynx populations, and lynx habitat requirements.

For example, lynx exhibit a "cheek rubbing" behavior. Cats have scent glands on their cheeks and forehead, and when a lynx rubs its head against a tree-much like a housecat rubs his head against your leg-they pass scent along, sort of a forest telegraph system, alerting other lynx to their presence. Weaver recognized that this behavior might enable biologists to collect hair samples from lynx, by attracting them to strategically located scent posts. The hair samples can then be analyzed, using modern DNA testing. From "a couple of strands of hair" Weaver explained that scientists can determine the species of animal, identify individual animals and their gender, and also determine how closely related the animal is to others in the local population. Weaver believes that his research on lynx will help provide biologists with important information about local lynx populations and preferred habitat.

Rick Mace, the research biologist with FWP in Kalispell who recently completed comprehensive grizzly bear studies in the Swan, is in charge of the new lynx study in the Seeley Swan.

"Most of our knowledge (about lynx) comes from studies done in the boreal forests of Canada," he said during a recent interview. "We'd like to try and figure out what lynx are doing in Montana."

Historical records show that the Seeley Swan is a good area to start studying lynx. FWP biologists have conducted winter fur-bearer studies near Seeley Lake and in the Swan Valley for the past seven years.

"We know there are lynx there," Mace explained, adding that lynx are "pretty well distributed" across western Montana. However, he said, rather than implement several small studies in areas all across the western part of the state, biologists decided to use available funding to study one area, "and study it well." The big thrust of the project, he said, will begin next winter. "Right now, we're just in the beginning stages of the study."

Local residents who would like to know more about the lynx study are encouraged to contact Mace at the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Kalispell.

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