New recovery plan released for the less than 50 Canada lynx remaining in WA

It remains unclear where the Canada lynx can survive as Washington’s forests continue to rapidly change, but a new recovery plan released this month could give the roughly 50 remaining lynx in Washington state a fighting chance.

U.S. officials have proposed a $31 million recovery plan for the medium-sized wildcat that rely on snow. Data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has shown that warmer temperatures will reduce the species' livable habitat, which in turn would make it harder for lynx to hunt their primary prey: snowshoe hares.

In Washington state, the concern has been growing for some time – on top of temperature change, the threat of mega-fires reducing habitable land has increased concerns.

"The effects of climate change we’re all seeing, especially in the west with wildfires, isn’t experienced by humans alone," said Carmen Vanbianchi, the research director for Home Range Wildlife Research.


Researchers work to save lynx from extinction amid worsening Washington wildfires

In 2006, the Tripod Complex fire tore through the Okanogan National Forest. The fire was bad, but its effect on the wildlife habitat was worse. 

Vanbianchi and her team have spent the past year attempting to trap, collar and release Canada lynx.

It’s part of a research project aimed to better understand how recently burned landscapes affect the handful of lynx that remain in the Cascades. It's information that is desperately needed as prescribed burns are needed to make their habitat resilient, but those fires could pose a risk if they aren’t managed in a way that keeps lynx hunting grounds viable.

"We’ve had almost a full year of data from some of these lynx and we can see the full picture of what they’re doing," said Vanbianchi. "A neat thing we can see is that there are lynx making their entire living within a previously burned area that’s regenerating. That’s a good sign for the lynx on this landscape. They’re starting to re-colonize a burn area."

Vanbianchi told FOX 13 that her group doesn’t weigh in on management decisions, instead choosing to let the scientific information their research reveals speak for them.

The new recovery plan describes how Canada lynx are a snow-dependent species that could be wiped out in parts of the U.S. by the end of the century. The population of lynx in Washington are considered most at-risk, as warmer temperatures also reduce the habitat snowshoe hares rely on. Those hares are the primary food source for the Canada lynx.

The recovery plan is now in a public comment period. Comments can be sent through Jan. 30, 2024 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


The Canada lynx is a medium-sized wild cat with grizzled gray fur. The lynx looks similar to a bobcat but has exaggerated features, including its large Muppet-like paws that allow the lynx to glide over snowy terrain.

While occasionally confused for bobcats, lynx are easy to differentiate by the previously mentioned large paws, long black ear tufts and a short, black-tipped tail.

The average Canada lynx weighs between 15 and 30 pounds. Its long legs and long feet allow the lynx to hunt in deep snow – specifically for snowshoe hares.


While federally listed as "threatened," the species was listed as "endangered" in Washington state as far back as 2016 due to habitat loss from increasing fires.

Washington, like the rest of the United States, became good at fire suppression. Improvements in fire suppression have had their drawbacks.

In the North Cascades, large swathes of land remained unburned for long periods of time. Traditionally smaller, more frequent fires would have been normal when lynx were thriving in the region – but after decades of suppression, larger mega-fires became more normal as the forest was stocked full of fuels after large periods of time without fire.

In 2021, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources even launched a prescribed fire program in an effort to reduce wildfires – part of the state’s 20-year forest health plan.

FOX 13 has even gotten a close-up look at work by non-profits like The Nature Conservancy, which has introduced prescribed burn programs in Kittitas County to create barriers for towns that have been devastated by wildfires in recent years.

The idea is simple: when fire is returned to a landscape on a smaller scale, it creates fire breaks that don’t burn as quickly – while it doesn’t reduce wildfires it can mitigate, minimize, or reduce the negative impacts of fires.

"It’s a shift in culture and in mindset to be burning," Sami Schinnell, a cooperative fire director for TNC Washington to FOX 13 in August. "We respond to wildfires like it’s an emergency. We need to be responding to this issue of putting fire back on the landscape as an emergency."


Home Range Wildlife Research is now in year two of a study that is looking at the ongoing threat of climate change-driven megafires.

With warming temperatures, and forests that are prime to burn, there is a sense of urgency to better understand how lynx utilize burned areas, or habitat that is in the process of re-growth.

If Washington can heal its forests, it’ll likely involve the re-introduction of fire to the forest areas that lynx rely on – but that work can’t be done without a better understanding of how lynx will be affected by that work.

Researchers remain in the early stages of research. This year marks the second year of work, but they’re already receiving data that shows where lynx are going, what habitat they’re using and how.

Currently, three Canada lynx in the North Cascades have radio collars on, which has allowed the Home Range team to chart where the lynx are. They can then go into the field and document the physical terrain they’re utilizing and gather data so they can understand where the species are merely traveling, and where they hunt.

"We can basically learn how flammable the habitat is that lynx use," said Vanbianchi.

However, it will take time to create a full picture of what lynx are doing. It’s slow to trap a species as elusive as the lynx, not to mention, work to track and draw strong, rigorous scientific conclusions takes time.

Luckily, they’ve received support from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to support the project’s data collection – while volunteers have helped build traps.


There are roughly 1,100 Canada lynx remaining in the contiguous United States spread across five different areas. Their habitat exists in both Alaska and Canada, but those areas also saw large-scale wildfires to important habitats this past fire season.

The new recovery plan is a required document by the Endangered Species Act that is meant to ensure the long-term survival of a species. The plan details management actions that can ensure lynx don’t disappear from the landscape.

In the recovery plan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service writes that agencies may need to address "fuels and fire management strategy that incorporates lynx habitat needs in the face of a warming, drying climate."

In other words, forest resiliency will need to improve to keep the land viable for the population to survive.

The estimated time to implement the plan is 20 years, though it’s noted that the program could change over time.

If the plan is approved, there are 14 recovery actions planned ranging from managing forests to restore habitat to connecting habitats that touch the U.S./Canada border, and studying lynx to better understand climate impacts.

The entire recovery plan is available here. Public comment on the plan will remain open through the end of January 2024.