It’s the end of a cycle for lynx and area hunters of the short-tailed cat will likely not get another chance at them on the Kenai Peninsula until about 2020.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game sent a reminder in early November to hunters and trappers, in part because this year’s closure of the two game units on the Kenai Peninsula deviated from the way the lynx season has been restricted during previous years.
Lynx, which are on roughly a six-year abundance cycle on the Kenai Peninsula, were typically taken primarily by trapping and snaring. In the past, when lynx trapping seasons were closed, hunting was still allowed because harvest by that method was minimal, said Fish and Game area biologist Jeff Selinger.
During the 2008-09 lynx season, roughly 6 percent of the lynx harvested were shot, but by the 2013-14 season nearly 40 percent of the harvest was reported as being killed with a gun, according to Fish and Game data.
“What we’ve seen recently is a real increase in people using the predator calls and an increase in predator calling in general,” Selinger said.
The result of that renewed interest is a higher percentage of the lynx being shot rather than snared or trapped.
“So, before, when we had a handful of lynx taken during the hunting season, I could leave that open … but I can no longer afford to keep the hunting season open when the trapping season is closed,” Selinger said.
Lynx populations are tied to snowshoe hare populations which are its largest food source. When hare populations become scarce, lynx populations drop within a few years as well, Selinger said.
While there are no population estimates for hares or lynx on the Kenai Peninsula, biologists monitor the population by surveying hunters and trappers and looking for signs of snowshoe hares in the area, Selinger said.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge keeps data on the snowshoe hare population and Selinger said Fish and Game uses refuge data in addition to its own, to determine when the seasons should be closed.
Lynx aren’t the only predator population tied to hares.
“When the hares go high, you see more avian predators and you see more coyotes,” Selinger said.
Hunters will still be allowed to harvest snowshoe hares.
“Typically the harvest levels (of hares) never reach a point where we’re afraid that they’re going to supress that population,” Selinger said.
The last six-year cycle of abundance for lynx resulted in some of the highest harvests on record for the animal. The harvest peaked during the 2011-12 season when 456 were reported killed on the Kenai Peninsula.
Selinger said the hare population was expected to rebound and would benefit from the same recent changes in the environment as area moose because the two populations share a food source.
“In the winter they’re browsing on twigs and they’re eating bark,” he said. “So, when people say the wildfire will make good habitat for moose — it should be good habitat for hares as well because they eat the same things.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at email@example.com.