Background and Recovery
Then and Now
Lnyx once inhabited much of the Canadian boreal forests that extend into the Northeast, northern Great Lakes, Rocky Mountains and Cascade Mountains. These forests provide deep snow in the winter, perfect conditions for lynx to hunt their favorite prey—the snowshoe hare.
However, as a result of historic trapping and ongoing habitat loss from logging and development, lynx are running out of places to call home. Scientists estimate that just 1,000 lynx remain in parts of Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming.
Federal protections are now in place and Colorado has completed an aggressive reintroduction program, but there is still much work that needs to be done to secure lynx populations in the face of climate change and ever-shrinking habitat.
Key Recovery Milestones
After years of pressure from Defenders and other conservation organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally listed the lynx as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2000. These federal protections officially made it illegal to hunt or trap lynx in the lower 48. We followed up by urging the Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for lynx, which is vital to their recovery.
Blatant political interference corrupted the initial critical habitat designation, issued in 2006, and it fell far short of the acreage needed to protect the lynx’s future. Defenders and our allies took legal action to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit their critical habitat designation, which was ultimately expanded in 2009 to include an area 20 times larger than the original designation. In 2010 we successfully defending the expanded designation in court after it was challenged by snowmobiling groups.
During this time, the Colorado Division of Wildlife began its own efforts to restore lynx to the southern Rocky Mountains. In 1999, they launched a lynx reintroduction program to release animals in the San Juan Mountains. By 2005, more than 200 lynx had been released, and in 2009 state wildlife agents had documented at least 10 lynx kittens in five separate dens in Colorado. The reintroduction program ended successfully in 2010 with birth rates exceeding mortality rates, indicating a population that is now self-sustaining.