Threats to Lynx
Lynx have always been valued highly by trappers for their thick, soft fur — and lynx populations have declined with that hunting pressure. Their habitat was also impacted by decades of timber management on federal lands without any guidance from federal agencies to conserve lynx (and snowshoe hare) habitat, until finally, in the last two decades, federal steps were taken to protect lynx and their habitat.
As of their listing in 2000 under the Endangered Species Act, lynx can no longer be legally trapped in the lower 48 states, and land management agencies must take lynx needs into account. However, lynx have not fully recovered from population declines, and they remain at serious risk. Primary sources of mortality to lynx are starvation, predation, and human-related causes, as well as habitat loss.
Boreal forests, the lynx’s preferred habitat, rarely remain undisturbed for long. Logging, road-building and high traffic volume, housing developments, resource extraction such as oil drilling and mining, and winter recreation can disrupt, degrade and break up lynx habitat, making it harder for this species to survive.
Fire suppression efforts and types of forest management that remove understory can negatively affect snowshoe hares, the lynx’s primary prey. And while wildfires can help create lynx habitat by providing young, growing tree stands that support hares, the excessive numbers of hot, large, high-elevation fires in the past decade may be a threat to the species’ survival.
For lynx to thrive, it is essential that that lynx populations and habitats in Canada and the contiguous United States are connected. But lynx movements may be negatively affected by development and high traffic volume on roads that fragment suitable lynx habitat, and in some areas, mortalities due to vehicle strikes are high. Lynx also are impacted by incidental mortality during otherwise lawful trapping for other species.
In deep snow, lynx have an advantage over other predators, as their large, snowshoe-like paws allow them to travel quickly, easily and quietly across the snow. Yet climate change is resulting in less predictable snowpack in winter, taking away the lynx’s special advantage and making it easier for less specialized competitors like coyotes and bobcats to move into and take over lynx territory. In the face of a shifting climate, it is vital that we enhance our land management and planning to ensure lynx can safely travel to alternative habitats if and when portions of their range change and fail to provide good habitat conditions.