OLYMPIA – Using satellite technology and genetic analysis, state scientists will don snowshoes in coming months to track the movements and activities of one of the country's rarest and most reclusive wild cats– the lynx.
A summary of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's (WDFW) on-going lynx research in the remote high country of Okanogan County is currently featured in WDFW's online science magazine on the Internet. The electronic magazine, the first of its kind produced by a state natural resource agency, showcases the work of WDFW fish and wildlife scientists. It features articles, research briefs, field notes, science papers and an interactive question-and-answer section on fish, wildlife and habitat issues.
"Out in the field, we're tracking lynx movements and activities– everything from traveling to hunting, eating and mating– and plotting them very precisely on grids using a computerized mapping system," said WDFW Wildlife Biologist Gary Koehler, who heads the lynx study, along with Keith Aubry, principal research biologist with the U.S.D.A. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.
"By comparing these activities in various forest habitats, we can pinpoint optimum lynx habitat," Koehler added.
" We're also using DNA analysis to identify individual animals and determine population numbers," he said. "Ultimately, this information will help scientists put a conservation plan into place to help ensure the long-term survival of this animal."
With fewer than 200 lynx left in the state, concern for the animal is rising. Washington is one of only a few northern-tier states still inhabited by the wild cat, which was federally listed last year as a threatened species.
The lynx study is expected to add to the knowledge of how lynx use logged and naturally burned forest habitat. From the study, scientists from WDFW, together with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, the University of Washington and Seattle City Light, hope to learn more about what types of forest habitats and prey lynx need to thrive.
The lynx is a relatively small cat with large, snowshoe-like feet that allow it to travel easily across snowy high country hunting its prey, the snowshoe hare. The lynx inhabits high elevations of north-central and northeast Washington, where snow persists for six months a year.
The field study, which began in December 2000, will resume this December and continue until next spring.