A Canada lynx is now roaming Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. State wildlife biologists from Vermont and New Hampshire identified a set of lynx tracks in one of Vermont’s large Essex County state wildlife management areas on February 7.
The Canada lynx is native to Vermont, but the species has always been scarce in the state, according to historic accounts. The last time there was a confirmed occurrence of a lynx in Vermont was 1968.
On a day off from work, Will Staats, a New Hampshire wildlife biologist discovered the lynx tracks and called Paul Hamelin, a Vermont wildlife biologist in the St. Johnsbury office of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.
Both men confirmed the identity of the Vermont lynx tracks and discovered where the lynx had traveled near a set of bobcat tracks, making it possible to take photos of the two sets of tracks. The lynx tracks are noticeably larger and spaced further apart. They also have other unique identifying features.
Looking a lot like their cousin, the bobcat, Canada lynx have ear tufts and facial ruffs on their cheeks that are larger than those of bobcats. Canada lynx have longer legs and larger, heavily furred feet that enable them to travel easily on snow. Lynx generally have more gray and less red color in their fur than bobcats.
“It is great to see this once-native species again in Vermont,” said Hamelin. “There have been a few unconfirmed reports of lynx in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom in recent years, and we know they occur in Canada as well as in New Hampshire and Maine, so it wasn’t a big surprise to find the tracks of this animal.”
Canada lynx are noted for roaming great distances in their search for food. Their specialized dependence on snowshoe hare as prey links their sustaining populations to areas where young, low-growing spruce, balsam fir and cedar provide good hare habitat. Both timber harvest and natural disturbances such as fire, insect infestations, major wind events, and disease outbreaks can provide excellent habitat for snowshoe hare and lynx.
Historic accounts of Canada lynx in Vermont reveal that they were never as numerous as bobcats. Lynx numbers declined in Vermont by the mid-1800s, when only about 25 percent of the state was covered by forest due to the land being cleared for farming.
“We can’t expect Canada lynx to be abundant in Vermont, because the amount of suitable habitat is very limited as much of our forest is now growing older and less suitable for snowshoe hare as well as lynx,” said Hamelin.
Protected by state and federal law, the lynx also is listed as a furbearer species in Vermont. It is federally listed as a threatened species and listed by Vermont as endangered. Federal law provides a six-month jail sentence and $25,000 fine for killing one.