Endangered Canada lynx appears to be thriving in New Brunswick
Canada lynx was almost non-existent in N.B. in the 1970s but now there are reports of it all over the place
What was once an incredibly rare species to glimpse in New Brunswick now appears to be thriving.
The Canada lynx was classified as an endangered species in New Brunswick in the early 1970s because of very low population numbers.
Glimpsing one of the province's biggest wild cats in the wilderness was considered a rarity, reserved only for seasoned outdoorsmen.
But now reports of lynx occur all over the province.
"Since the mid-'90s the population seems to have increased considerably and expanded its range," said Graham Forbes, a professor of biology at the University of New Brunswick. "But when I first came to New Brunswick, reports of seeing lynx were up there with reports of seeing the eastern cougar."
Graham says over the last two decades the species population has grown from pockets of the animals in the north that have spread south.
"The last 15 to 20 years the animals were up near the Quebec border and we got the feeling that the population was being helped by the animals coming over from the Gaspé region," said Forbes. "They became established in the Green River area and a few other places.
"But since then we're getting records of Lynx showing up in most of New Brunswick."
In the last year, lynx have shown up in unlikely places across New Brunswick.
In April of 2016 a young male was captured in downtown Fredericton, across from a busy farmers market. In June, 2016 lynx kittens were found in a logging ditch south of Fredericton. And this month a photographer captured stunning photos of the endangered animal near Mactaquac, finishing off a deer carcass.
"Before the 1970s there were virtually none," said Forbes. "But it now looks like the population has been increasing."
Why the increase?
Scientists can't say with certainty why the Canada lynx appears to be doing so well in New Brunswick.
"It's the $1 million question," said Steve Gordon, a manager of species at risk and conservation with the Department of Energy and Resource Development. "There needs to be more study, and more information.
"The indications are they are doing better and expanding their range in New Brunswick. But there is a lot of science required before you can make that determination. It could be a good news story."
The relationship between the lynx and the snowshoe hare is often used as an introduction to early biology students in ecology on how one species population impacts the other.
When the hare population increases, the lynx population does so as well in response to the availability of prey. When the hare population decreases, so does the lynx. While that direct relationship does exist elsewhere in Canada, it may or may not be the case in New Brunswick.
"There's not been a lot of study done on lynx in New Brunswick," said Forbes "So while that could be happening, we don't know for sure."
"Snowshoe hare do well with young softwood forest, and we have a fair bit of that in the province now, so they might be responding to that now."
The possibility of young softwood forests aiding prey numbers for the lynx is also being considered by provincial resources officials.
"The hare population appears to be on a bit of an upswing in the last few years," said Gordon. "Our forestry practices are creating young forests here and there, and scattered around, so that's probably affecting the dynamics of hare and creating good habitat for them as well. And the lynx should follow that.
"There is a predator-to-prey-based cycle. But what we have here is not static, so we're probably changing that dynamic a little bit with our land-use practices."
While hunting and trapping lynx in New Brunswick is prohibited, the large cats are sometimes snared in traps meant for bobcats.
Trappers must attempt to free lynx accidently snared, or contact conservation officers to do so, but if the animal does die in a trap or snare it has to be reported and surrendered to government.
So while there are no specific studies tracking the population of lynx in the province, biologists can get an idea if populations are fluctuating over time based on the number of carcasses handed over to government.
"The incidental take of lynx by trappers used to be a few a year," Gordon said. "But now we're up to 30 or 40 a year."