The discovery by wildlife biologists of two Canada lynx kittens in northwestern Maine on June 18 confirms that the rare cats reproduce in the state.
Lee E. Perry, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and Ronald E. Lambertson, Northeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, jointly announced today that the biologists found the kittens, one male and one female, while tracking an adult female lynx they had radio-collared last March.
"We can now say, without question, that there is a lynx population in Maine and not just an occasional animal passing through from Canada," said Service biologist Dr. John Organ.
Organ and Department biologists Dr. Craig McLaughlin, Dr. George Matula and Jennifer Vashon began a study this past winter to learn more about the status of Maine^s lynx populations and to determine what management actions, if any, are needed to conserve the species.
The biologists captured the female lynx in a trap in northwestern Maine last March, fitted her with a radio collar, and released her. The lynx was later observed from an airplane traveling along logging roads with two smaller lynx, presumably her offspring from last year. When her movements stopped at the end of May, the biologists suspected that she had established a den to give birth to a litter of kittens.
The den site is in a young forest that appears to have been logged 10 to 15 years ago. The dense re-growth of young trees combined with larger uprooted trees provides a tangle of vegetation to hide newborn lynx kittens.
A Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration grant from the Service provides funding for the interagency study. The Service distributes federal excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, handguns, and archery equipment to state wildlife agencies for research and management projects.
Canada lynx, the only lynx species in North America, are medium-sized wild cats that occur in extreme northern forests worldwide. Lynx have large feet that function like snowshoes, allowing them to hunt in deep snow. The cats feed primarily on snowshoe hare, a large rabbit found in young forests, and other small mammals and birds.
Perry and Lambertson agree that the managed cutting of timber in northern Maine has created ideal conditions for snowshoe hare and, therefore, likely for lynx as well.
Lynx were historically found throughout much of Canada, the northern forests of the U.S., and the subalpine forests of the central and southern Rocky Mountains. The Service has proposed listing the lynx as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 16 of the lower 48 states, because of a perceived decline in population numbers and a reduction in the amount of suitable habitat occupied by the animals. The Service recently extended the proposal for six months to consider additional scientific information.