Planning for the endangered Canada lynx cat in the Blue Mountain Plan Revision process poses several challenges. First, how many lynx cats were present in the past, and what role did the lynx play in the Blue Mountain region? Historic information available indicates there were occasional sightings or harvesting of lynx in the Blue Mountain region. However, this same information indicates that lynx was only an occasional visitor of or, at most, they were present as solitary animals, with little evidence of breeding pairs or viable populations. Records (Enterprise Chieftain) examined by the Grant Public Forest Commission show two lynx taken in Wallowa County near the city of Troy. There are unconfirmed reports of some within the Imnaha or Snake river drainages. Large bobcats are common in these areas, making confirmation especially difficult.
Vern Bailey, Senior Biologist Division of Wildlife Research Bureau of Biological Survey, reported Canada lynx cats in the Northern Cascades and Blue Mountains of Washington. However, Bailey reports (1934) lynx habitat as typical Eastern Canada boreal forest and further this is their primary population center. He also reported lynx were scarce in Oregon, with species taken at Fort Klamath, Bend, North Fork of the John Day, near Pendleton, at Granite in Grant County and on Kiger Creek of the Steens Mountains.
It is interesting to note the ones taken near Troy in Wallowa County, the Imnaha, Snake River, John Day River, Pendleton, Bend and Kiger Creek were most likely taken in open buchgrass, rocky landscapes with only stringers of timber along streams or rivers. This habitat contrasts sharply with the boreal forest habitat Bailey describes as prime habitat. All of the above raises serious questions regarding how much of an effort should be made to provide the boreal forest conditions regarded as good habitat. In fact, the visiting or solitary individuals taken were more likely in that location as a result of available food than for any other reason.
The settlers and early day ranchers or farmers commonly kept flocks of chickens along with other animals to provide eggs and meat. It appears most lynx taken were killed or trapped because they were preying on chickens or other farm animals.
The next issue that raises concern is the large acreages burned within the Blue Mountain region at higher altitudes. According to wildlife biologists, these burns should have created the proper habitat for snowshoe rabbits and lynx cat and the absence of both makes one wonder if the biologists and the lynx are in agreement on habitat needs. High populations of snowshoe rabbits are reported in the Anthony Lakes burn, but so far as this commission knows of no populations studies or trends being established. Given the large acreages burned, the time that has lapsed and the absence of large populations of snowshoe rabbits or lynx cats, the questions that beg to be answered are how much area must be burned and how long will it be until lynx are present in the desired numbers and at what cost to other species? What other natural resources will be lost and at what cost to society?
As we consider the above, we have to ask how many board feet of timber must be burned, how many jobs must be given up, how much erosion will occur, how many streams will be affected, how much spawning area will be silted in and what affect will this have on endangered fish species? Will the damages to other resources have to be mitigated by restrictions of land and natural resource uses and access to or opportunities for recreation? The list of unanswered questions goes on and on. It seems to this commission that a thorough examination of the consequences of such actions must be addressed through a complete NEPA document before proceeding.
In the Department of Agriculture report to the president and congress (1918), there is a notation of 3,462 bobcats and lynxes taken. The locations are not shown and bobcats are not listed separate from lynx; however, this number is within the range of bobcats taken so one must conclude the lynx were low in number. It is interesting to note that 849 wolves, 26,241 coyotes and 85 mountain lions were also taken, saving the livestock industry $2,376,650 dollars in 1918, that today would be approximately $230,000,000 dollars.
Arleigh Isley is a member of the Grant County Public Forest Commission. He lives in John Day.