This magnificent creature is a Canada lynx. They are rare and elusive predators native to Glacier National Park and are so mysterious that they have earned the nickname, the “shadow of the forest.” They have been studied very little in the park — until now. Your generous donations to the Glacier Conservancy are funding ongoing scientific research that documents the status of lynx populations by using camera traps to determine where they are currently living in Glacier.
We recently caught up with Glacier’s wildlife biologist who is spearheading the study to learn more about the research your gifts are making possible.
Photo: Cory DeStein Photography
Learning More About The Elusive Lynx
We recently caught up with Glacier’s wildlife biologist, Alissa Anderson. A full-time wildlife technician for several years, Alissa brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this landmark study on Glacier’s lynx population.
What led to your interest in studying lynx?
Alissa Anderson (AA): I have been a full-time wildlife technician for 7 years, mostly working on projects studying small carnivores or nongame species including fisher, harlequin ducks, black swifts, loons, and bats. I am excited to study lynx because as a species listed as Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, research can have direct impacts on management and the recovery process. I am also excited to study lynx because I personally find them fascinating. They are rarely seen, sort of the ghosts of the northern forests. They are an incredible example of specialized evolution for a deep snow environment, having these huge furry paws that enable them to float over snow when most predators sink.
Have you seen a lynx in the wild?
AA: I have only seen lynx that were live captured for research purposes, so I would consider that cheating. I would really love to see a lynx in the wild doing its natural lynx thing! But they are rare and elusive. The best way to enjoy lynx is through snow tracking, particularly backtracking. While never actually seeing the animal, you can follow all of its movement and see a really intimate slice of its life without ever bothering the animal.
What is the most captivating lynx story that you’ve heard?
AA: There is an interesting anecdote about lynx hunting behavior that actually takes place in Glacier. Lynx are typically thought of as solitary hunters of snowshoe hare in boreal and dense forest. In 1971, researcher David Barash was about a mile from Logan Pass and observed three lynx (two adults and one juvenile) cooperatively hunting a Columbian ground squirrel above the tree line in a boulder field. I like this story because it is such a great example of how nature will always surprise us. There are always exceptions to what we think we know.
What is something that most people don’t know about lynx?
AA: Here in Montana, we are near the southern extent of lynx range. Because the majority of lynx live north of us in Canada and Alaska, the majority of lynx research has also come from further north.
Why is this study important for the viability of Glacier’s lynx population and lynx populations as a whole?
AA: Glacier National Park makes up a significant portion of the critical habitat for Canada lynx in Montana, as designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, there has been little research in the park on the species. Our study will survey for lynx across the entire park. It will give us a better understanding of where lynx are and where lynx may not be currently living in the park. Most lynx research happens in the winter, when research methods will not attract grizzly bears, and when it is easier to follow lynx movements via snow tracking. Winter field work via snowmobile is much more difficult, dangerous, and expensive than summer field work. The methods we will employ to study lynx with cameras traps in the summer were developed in the state of Washington. I am excited to try them out for the first time in Montana. I think there is potential to use similar methods to better understand lynx populations across their range.
Protecting Glacier’s Wildlife For Generations To Come
Lynx research is an ongoing project that needs additional funding for the next two years. Check out our full guide for project funding needs for 2020, featuring signature projects that distinguish the public-private partnership between the Glacier Conservancy and the park as among the most dynamic, productive, and impactful of its kind.
Photo: Bastian Sander
Mark Your Calendars!
July 31, 2019 has been officially designated Canada Lynx Day in the state of Montana. We are thrilled to celebrate by featuring lynx research as our Live Drive featured project at this year’s Backpacker’s Ball!