MONTPELIER, Vt. – The threatened Canada lynx is returning to the wilderness of northeastern Vermont, where forests now regenerating after being logged provide ideal habitat for its primary prey, the snowshoe hare, biologists say.
While still rare, lynx tracks have been spotted in Vermont over the last two years; earlier this year, a Derby farmer shot and killed a lynx in his chicken coop in the first confirmed sighting of a lynx in Vermont since 1968.
Biologists aren’t sure why the animals are finding their way back, but it’s probably a combination of good habitat, adequate prey and a growing population elsewhere in the region, said Fish and Wildlife fur biologist Kim Royar.
“We think they’ve always been associated with increases in that population in Canada and northern Maine,” Royar said. “That population in Maine has been doing quite well, and we are starting to see some movement of animals into Vermont.”
In addition to the lynx that was shot, there have been two additional sightings that biologists consider confirmed. Another four sightings over the last few years are considered probable, Royar said.
Since 2000, the lynx has been listed as threatened by the federal Endangered Species Act. It’s considered endangered under Vermont law.
Maine wildlife officials estimate there are at least 500 lynx in that state, the only state in the east to support a self-sustaining population.
Royar said there were wild areas across northeastern Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and adjacent areas of Quebec that could be good habitat for lynx.
Canada lynx are typically 30 to 35 inches long and weigh 18 to 23 pounds. They have tufts on their ears, short, black-tipped tails, and large, well-furred feet and long legs that make it easier for them to move in deep snow.
Royar said there is ample snowshoe hare habitat – thick softwood areas with lots of downed material – in northeastern Vermont.
Lynx are similar enough to the much more common bobcat that the Fish and Wildlife agency has a pamphlet on its Web site telling hunters and trappers how to distinguish between the two species.
In Vermont, no special effort was made to bring the lynx back, but Royar said she was thrilled to find the animals here on their own.
“It’s just always amazing to have an animal show up in Vermont that was here prior to European settlement and think perhaps we might be able to maintain that animal into the future by good habitat management and habitat conservation,” Royar said.