Lynx trapping remains closed

Lynx trapping will stay closed this year on the Kenai Peninsula as the wild cats and the prey they depend on move through a low phase of the population cycle. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the closure July 1 in management units 15 and 7, which encompass the peninsula, as well as unit 14c, which covers the region east of Turnagain and Knik Arms. Despite the trapping closure, a lynx hunting season will open in units 15 and 7 from Jan. 1, 2019 to Feb. 15, 2019.

Snowshoe hare are such a staple of the lynx diet that lynx populations grow and shrink based on their abundance, with Fish and Wildlife biologists opening and closing trapping seasons accordingly. Presently hare are in the end of a low phase after probably reaching a peak in the winter of 2011-2012, according to Fish and Game’s emergency order.

“The cycles always vary and they vary in intensity, depending on a lot of vegetative and climate conditions,” said Fish and Game Kenai Area Biologist Jeff Selinger. “But generally speaking they’re 10 to 12 years, somewhere in there.”

Like moose, hare favor young, low-growing shrubs and fresh shoots of aspen, birch, and willow — the sort of vegetation that grows after a forest fire has cleared away dense older trees such as black spruce. In the previous cycle of lynx population, a lot of this “habitat turnover” occurred in the central peninsula, driven by fires including the 2007 Caribou Hills fire, Selinger said.

Lynx harvest on the Kenai Peninsula began climbing in the hunting seasons after 2007, according to charts presented to the Alaska Board of Game in their March 2015 meeting, reaching a record 456 in the 2011-2012 season and sustaining that level with 433 taken the next. However, the reported lynx harvest dropped to 118 in 2013-2014, and Fish and Game began the present closure the following year.

Selinger speculated that hare may grow abundant around areas burnt by the 2014 Funny River fire, and the lynx will likely follow.

“We’re starting to see more hares now,” Selinger said. “Usually you want to wait a year or two after the hares start coming back — not necessarily peaking, but they’re well established and on the upswing. Once they start climbing up, you give the lynx a year or two to start litter production and the survival of kits — that’ll go with the hare increase — and that will allow for the trapping season to open up.”

Reach Ben Boettger at bboettger@peninsulaclarion.com

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