BONNERS FERRY — Lynx in northern Idaho are very uncommon and distinguishing them from bobcats can be difficult.
A Boundary County man recently learned the hard way the importance of knowing how to tell a bobcat from a lynx when he mistakenly killed a lynx in one of his traps. Lynx are classified as threatenedand protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The unidentified individual said he would have released the animal from the trap had he known it was a lynx, but he could not see the animal’s paws because of snow.
“He was legally trapping and he realized his mistake,” said conservation officer Brian Johnson.
He immediately reported the incident to the local conservation officer and pleaded guilty in state court to mistakenly trapping and harvesting a lynx. He was fined $200 and ordered to pay $25 restitution to Idaho Fish and Game and $160 in court costs.
The lynx was trapped in late December outside the designated critical habitat for lynx. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat for lynx that includes part of the Purcell Mountains in the far northeast corner of Boundary County.
IDFG Wildlife Biologist Michael Lucid has been surveying for lynx in the Idaho Panhandle and no resident population has been confirmed but their presence has been documented in Units 1 and 4.
Genetic testing of hair and scat samples he has collected are being used to identify individual lynx. Confirmed lynx samples have been collected in the Selkirk Mountains and the Purcell Mountains.
A DNA test will be done on the trapped lynx to determine if it is related to lynx previously confirmed in the county according to IDFG conservation officer Brian Johnson.
The lynx will be mounted alongside a bobcat and used in educational programs to aid in proper identification of lynx and bobcats according to a IDFG press release.
“Losing a lynx to trapping or any other cause is disheartening,” says Phil Cooper, IDFG officer. “Fortunately these are very rare events, less than one per decade.”
Idaho Fish and Game dedicates two pages in its Upland Game and Furbearer Rules to help trappers distinguish lynx from bobcats, ways to avoid incidental take and how to safely release a lynx from a trap.
Hunter education students and participants in Idaho’s mandatory wolf trapping classes are also instructed on how to tell the two species apart. Failure to recognize the difference between a bobcat and a lynx can be a costly mistake for trappers, and result in unlawful take of a protected species.
Bobcats can be hunted and are also trapped. However, lynx are completely protected making the ability to distinguish one from a bobcat especially important.
Idaho is the southern extent of the range of lynx distribution except for those transplanted to Colorado in 1999. Lynx are also found in Canada, Montana, Washington, and Oregon. A relative abundance of bobcats and coyotes has been suspected as limiting the southern distribution of lynx according to Cooper.
Lynx populations are heavily associated with snowshoe hares and they can cover vast amounts of ground when snowshoe hare populations are low.
Snowshoe hare densities found in northern Idaho are low relative to that for good lynx habitat in Canada, so our potential for lynx appears low according to Cooper. For example, studies in Idaho indicate snowshoe hare densities of 25 to 350 hares per square mile, which is similar to the “low” cycle further north. “High” cycles can be 1300 hares per square mile.