Lynx (Lynx canadensis) occur in the northern counties of Washington state, USA; however, current distribution and status of lynx in Washington is poorly understood. During winters 2002–2004 we snow-tracked lynx for 155 km within a 211-km2 area in northern Washington, to develop a model of lynx–habitat relationships that we could use to assess their potential distribution and status in the state. We recorded movements and behaviors of lynx with a Global Positioning System and overlaid digitized lynx trails on various habitat layers using a Geographic Information System. Based on univariate analyses, lynx preferred Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) forests, with moderate canopy and understory cover, and elevations ranging from 1,525 m to 1,829 m but avoided Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests, openings, recent burns, open canopy and understory cover, and steep slopes. A map of suitable lynx habitat based on a logistic regression model built using these candidate variables revealed that habitats at elevations >1,400 m where lynx historically occurred in Washington are intersected and fragmented by landscape features and forest conditions that are generally avoided by lynx. Our habitat suitability map predicts 3,800 km2 of lynx habitat in Washington that could support 87 lynx, far fewer than previous estimates. Since 1985, natural fires have burned >1,000 km2 of forested habitat in Okanogan County, the only region in Washington where lynx occurrence has been documented during that period. Loss of suitable habitat from natural and human-caused disturbances, and the lack of verifiable evidence of lynx occurrence in historic lynx range, suggests that fragmented landscape conditions may have impeded recolonization of these areas by lynx. Consequently, translocations may be necessary to ensure lynx persistence in Washington. We suggest that managers assess the potential for translocation by first identifying the scale and distribution of potential foraging habitats for lynx based on our or similar habitat models, survey various habitat conditions to obtain reliable estimates of snowshoe hare densities, and identify a genetically compatible source population of lynx. If habitat and source populations are adequate, reintroducing lynx to areas of their historic range may be an appropriate conservation strategy.
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