You might remember that 2019 was the Glacier Conservancy ‘Year of the Lynx.’ Now, in 2023, and we know more than ever about this elusive creature’s activity in the Crown of the Continent. Over the past three years, researchers have dedicated their expertise to gathering crucial information on the Canada lynx and their core habitat within park boundaries. We now have base line knowledge that proves how essential this habitat is for the survival of the species. The three year study was recently published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.
GNPC had the opportunity to catch up with wildlife biologist Alissa Anderson, who played a major role in the crucial study, to get some insight on her and her team’s findings.
Photo: Bastian Sander
A glimpse into the study
It’s been over three years since we last spoke with Glacier’s wildlife biologist, Alissa Anderson. We caught up with Anderson for the inside scoop on the recently published lynx study.
We published our blog with you in 2019, and at the time, you had yet to see a lynx wandering in the wild with your own eyes – has that changed?
Alissa Anderson (AA): Nope! I still have only seen lynx associated with research live-trapping, which is cheating. Someday!
Why is this lynx study so crucial in Glacier National Park?
AA: Lynx are specialized for living in places with deep snow/cold winters, so of course climate change is a big concern for the species—especially at the southern edge of their range in the lower 48. If we are concerned about the future of a species we need to have baseline data in order to be able to monitor populations over time. This study provides baseline data on distribution and abundance so we can monitor the species into the uncertain future.
Where in the park has the majority of lynx activity been captured? What major discoveries have you and your team made, and how will those discoveries go on to impact Glacier National Park in years to come?
AA: We found lynx in about half the grid cells we surveyed, mostly in the lower elevations of the park. One of our main conclusions was that GNP has the potential to become an important area of climate refugia for lynx if upslope migration of boreal habitats occurs. There are a lot of uncertainties about climate, but places like GNP with high elevations and lots of topographic roughness are predicted to be able to maintain some of those habitats into warmer climates. I think this just reiterates the increasingly important conservation impact that GNP may have in years to come.
Do you have an estimate of the lynx population in the park?
AA: Yes, we estimated roughly 50 lynx in GNP. We used techniques well tested for other felid species, but not before used to estimate lynx density. We set cameras on both sides of trails to capture images of both sides of individuals to visually identify individuals by markings on their inner front legs.
Where did you find the most lynx in the park?
AA: There are a few hot spots—mostly concentrated in the North Fork, South/SE, and NE corners of the park.
What do you believe would be the appropriate next steps for lynx research in Glacier?
AA: I think it would be great if the park were able to do periodic monitoring for lynx into the future. I don’t expect they would have resources to fully replicate the study, but it would certainly be great to revisit some of the camera sites every 5 or 10 years to monitor population change over time. We know lynx distribution will continue to shift in response to fire, but we really don’t know how lynx will respond to climate change. GNP will be a great place to study that now that we have solid baseline data. That’s what is so great about these camera studies, they are easy to replicate!
Is there a specific ‘wow’ moment that stands out to you from your time conducting research?
AA: Gosh, hard to pick one. Looking through images it is incredible how many species and individual wildlife are on these trails, sometimes within pretty close time periods, of huge volumes of hikers. I was pretty blown away by the enthusiasm and dedication folks here have to the park. Working with GNPC, citizen scientists, or just talking to random people on the trail curious about what we were doing, there are a lot of people who care deeply for this place and that’s a pretty incredible asset for GNP. Maybe lastly I’d say I have been incredibly fortunate to have been able to spend 3 summers working in a place of such cultural importance and relevance to conservation during my graduate experience and am very grateful for the support to be able to undertake important wildlife research and educational experience at the same time. BTW, I did get that sought after permanent job and look forward to a long career as a biologist in Montana, so thanks for helping me get here!!
Alissa Anderson poses with trail camera
More to the story
Trail cameras set up throughout the park to capture lynx activity provided insight into a little more than just the Canada lynx. Cameras captured activity from numerous other species residing in park boundaries during a time of varied human activity on the trails in Glacier’s wilderness – COVID-19 recreation restrictions in 2020. With this data, Anderson had the opportunity to publish a secondary study revealing the negative influence of low-impact recreation on wildlife spatiotemporal ecology. You can read this study published by Glacier’s Wildlife Biologist Alissa Anderson and her team here.
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