MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A rare lynx is making a comeback in Minnesota.
Sightings of the Canada lynx -- with its tufted ears, wide, furry paws and black-tipped stubby tail -- are growing in Minnesota after three decades of spotty attendance.
In the past two years, Department of Natural Resources have received about 140 sightings of lynxes. That's after the DNR determined in 1996 that the lynx no longer appeared to be a permanent resident of Minnesota.
"We've got confirmed lynx all the way from Red Lake to beyond Grand Marais," said Ed Lindquist, wildlife biologist for the Superior National Forest. "It's real likely that they're breeding and reproducing in Minnesota."
Lindquist works with a team that has searched for lynx tracks in fresh snow, then followed them to collect samples of hair and feces. Analysis of DNA in the samples indicates that more than two dozen lynxes are prowling the Superior National Forest, he said.
Rich Baker, the DNR's endangered species coordinator, said no one knows how many lynxes are living in the state or why they seem to have returned so suddenly.
One factor could be the increased population of snowshoe hares -- the lynx's favorite prey.
Before the 1970s, lynx numbers in Minnesota appeared to rise and fall with the snowshoe hare cycle. The state did not count lynxes but allowed a trapping season and recorded each year's harvest. The trapping records indicate peaks in 1940, 1952, 1963 and 1973.
But the pattern changed in the early 1980s. Even though the snowshoe hare population peaked again, lynx numbers remained low. The DNR closed the lynx trapping season after 1983, and lynxes remained scarce during the 1990s.
Trapping will not be a factor in the foreseeable future in the United States. The lynx received federal protection after being listed as a threatened species under the national Endangered Species Act in March 2000. While the cats have returned to Minnesota and Maine wildlife biologists are concerned that their range and populations have declined overall, especially in western mountain states.
Chris Burdette, a researcher for the Natural Resources Research Institute in Duluth, said little is known about the lynx. "We have a federal species listed as threatened, and we hardly know anything about it, especially in this part of the U.S.," he said.
Burdette is beginning a three-year study to put radio collars on lynxes. He hopes to track their movements, learn where they live and hunt, and determine whether they will stay in Minnesota after snowshoe hare populations crash. "If these lynx are dispersing to Minnesota from Canada and they all die or starve when there are no snowshoe hares to eat, we need to know that," he said.
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