COEUR d'ALENE - Lynx are rare in North Idaho.
While their presence has been documented in some areas in recent years, no resident population has been confirmed of the reclusive cat, listed as "threatened" and protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat for lynx that includes part of the Purcell Mountains in the far northeast corner of Boundary County.
It was just outside that area where one was killed earlier this month.
"Losing a lynx to trapping or any other cause is disheartening," said Jim Hayden, Fish and Game regional wildlife manager for the Panhandle region. "Fortunately these are very rare events."
A North Idaho man, whose name was not immediately available, pleaded guilty in state court to mistakenly trapping and harvesting a lynx.
He was fined $200 and ordered to pay $25 restitution to Idaho Fish and Game and $160 in court costs. The Boundary County Prosecutor's Office handled the case.
The man told investigators he would have released the animal from the trap had he known it was a lynx. Because he could not see the animal's paws because of snow, and he believed it was a bobcat, he shot it.
When he realized his error, he immediately reported the incident to the local conservation officer.
"I have to give the guy credit for immediately letting us know he had made a mistake," said Phil Cooper, Fish and Game officer. "It's not something there was any intent to do."
The incident occurred in early January. Cooper said the age of the female lynx hadn't been determined.
He said it's not known how many lynx could be in North Idaho. They are extremely secretive and difficult to census.
Michael Lucid, IDFG wildlife biologist, has conducted surveys for lynx in the Idaho Panhandle the past three years.
Confirmed lynx samples of hair and scat have been collected in the Selkirk Mountains and the Purcell Mountains.
Tests may reveal if the trapped lynx was related to the lynx that was confirmed in North Idaho the last two winters, said a press release.
The killing emphasizes the importance of knowing how to tell a bobcat from a lynx, Cooper said.
Bobcats and lynx are similar in body size and harder to identify when observed. However, their tracks are far different in size and easier to distinguish. Bobcat feet are small and lack hair between pads. A lynx has very large paws for its size. The longer hind legs of a lynx give it a stooped appearance.
Lynx are found in areas of particularly dense forest and tend to inhabit areas with deeper snow cover and higher elevations. They generally stay within a 100 yards of thick forest.
They are found in Canada, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. A lynx population exists in Yellowstone National Park that extends into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. After being eliminated from Colorado in the 1970s, lynx were reintroduced there in 1999.
While bobcats can be hunted and trapped, lynx are completely protected "making the ability to distinguish one from a bobcat especially important," Fish and Game said.
Idaho Fish and Game dedicates two pages in its Upland Game and Furbearer Rules to help trappers distinguish lynx from bobcats, ways to avoid incidental take and how to safely release a lynx from a trap.
"Failure to recognize the difference between a bobcat and a lynx can be a costly mistake for trappers, and result in unlawful take of a protected species," the release said.
The lynx will be mounted alongside a bobcat to aid in identification programs.
"Hopefully, we can use this as a means of educating people to know better of what they're looking at," Cooper said.
Difference between bobcats, lynx
Idaho bobcats are brownish or reddish with spots over much of the upper body, and distinct black spots on the belly. The lynx is generally pale gray without distinct spotting.
Bobcats may have ear tufts, but they are usually less than one inch long. Lynx have conspicuous dark ear tufts about 1 1/2 inches long. Bobcats lack prominent cheek tufts, lynx have prominent cheek tufts.
Tail characteristics, however, are probably the most reliable feature for making positive identification. A black tip completely encircles the end of the lynx's tail, and it has no bars on the upper side of the tail. The underside of the bobcat tail is white to the tip, usually with some barring on the upper side.