A wildlife research nonprofit backed by the Paul G. Allen Foundation is embarking on a new study to learn more about how the Pacific Northwest lynx population is affected by wildfires.
Home Range Wildlife Research is a nonprofit that conducts research, offers field training for biologists, and works with local communities to connect them with their landscape.
Carmen Vanbianchi, research director and co-founder at Home Range, studied lynx habitat selection for her Master’s degree after working with the U.S. Forest Service to collar lynx affected by the 2006 Tripod Complex Fire in Washington state. As she saw more wildfires in the North Cascades — home to Washington’s largest population of lynx — she felt a growing need to contribute to lynx conservation efforts.
“If wildfires continue at this rate and intensity, lynx are in danger of local extinction,” Vanbianchi said. “This research is urgently needed to learn more about their behavior and how we can ensure lynx have a presence in the North Cascades for generations to come.”
To collect data, Home Range will conduct a field study in the Tripod Fire area and observe which burned habitats lynx use via three main data sources: trail cameras, lynx tracks, and GPS collars fitted to the lynx. The nonprofit has funding for four collars and is working to raise more, Vanbianchi said.
Thick forests are the most vulnerable to burning, Vanbianchi said, so fire ecologists typically use forest treatments to insert fire breaks in these areas. However, lynx prefer thicker forests, meaning some lynx habitat must be destroyed in conservation efforts.
With the study, Vanbianchi hopes to learn more about how lynx use patchy landscapes, while also looking at how to optimize forest treatments to reduce fuels and preserve lynx habitats. Since 2016, lynx have been endangered in Washington state.
“My dream would be to continue getting funding to turn this into a longer-term project, since longer-term datasets on an evolving landscape would be such a powerful way to learn about habitat conservation for lynx,” Vanbianchi said.
The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation granted $300,000 in funding for the first three years of the study. Home Range is also partnering with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and University of British Columbia.
“Learning more about how the environment and local species are adapting to the realities of climate change is essential to preserving the biodiversity in our own backyard,” said Lara Littlefield, executive director of partnerships and programs for the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, in a statement.