Lynx on the Edge? Canada Lynx Occupancy in Washington

The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is a sensitive indicator species for impacts of climate change, as it is adapted to forested, high-elevation and deep-snow environments. In Washington, part of its southern range, the endangered Canada lynx is especially threatened by increases in temperature and associated loss of snow cover. Understanding how lynx population and occupancy patterns are influenced by climate and fire history is necessary to create effective and long-term management strategies for this species.

Researchers partially-funded by the NW CASC partnered with a group of federal and state agencies, as well as NGOs, to evaluate lynx distribution and status by conducting the largest systematic lynx camera trapping survey in Washington state to date. This effort constituted two years of data collection from nearly 650 camera stations and resulted in approximately 2 million images.

Researchers showed how large-scale occupancy patterns for lynx are influenced by climatic and environmental changes such as fire history and climate-driven temperature and snowpack conditions. This knowledge was used to map current and future lynx distributions, revealing the precarious status of lynx in Washington now and in the future. This study highlights the need for continued monitoring and management of lynx in Washington, without which, the lynx could be driven out of the state altogether, losing this section of its southern range in the continental United States. This project’s design, which proved to be highly effective at surveying lynx across broad spatial scales, offers a relatively easy and inexpensive approach to important future monitoring.

This project resulted in improved understanding of lynx response to climate-dependent variables that will help guide future lynx management, identify areas of conservation concern and inform state/regional/federal listing debates for Canada lynx. The results of this study have been shared with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other interested parties to help inform lynx delisting and monitoring discussions.

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A Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis) passes by one of the Lynx Project camera traps spread across the high mountains of Washington State.
Source: Travis King, Mammal Spatial Ecology and Conservation Lab at Washington State University