The Canada lynx inhabits most of Canada south of the tree line, most of Alaska, and, in the contiguous United States, in the southern reaches of boreal and sub-boreal forest along the Rocky Mountains, Cascade Range, and Blue Mountains, the Great Lakes region and New England.
It rarely occurs in heavily modified habitats such as agricultural areas and has difficulty where forestry permanently thins out forest cover or reduces forest complexity. On the other hand, it thrives well in forests left to regenerate after complete cuts or intensive deforestation, provided that recovery has been allowed to proceed for about 15 years or more.
The Canada lynx lives from sea level up to 4130 m. The Canada lynx specializes in very specific habitats and lives only in dense boreal and coniferous forests, with aspen, spruce, birch, willow, fir, poplar or pine, which essentially correspond to the distribution area of its main species of prey, the snowshoe hare.
Canada lynxes are highly adapted to snow and ice. In the Yukon River they have been seen swimming up to 3.2 km, and two individuals followed with radio collars routinely swam for 4-12 minutes in extremely dangerous semi-frozen rivers with air temperatures below -27°C.
Canada lynx and its status in 2023
The Canada lynx has lost parts of its range in southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and is uncommon or rare in eastern Canada, where two provinces classify it as Endangered. It is extinct on Prince Edward Island and mainland Nova Scotia.
Instead, it is still found on Cape Breton Island. Range loss is much more extensive in the contiguous United States, where it formerly occurred in 24 states but is now limited to a number of small, isolated populations collectively considered Threatened.
The main threat to the Canada lynx is habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation due to excessively destructive forestry practices or logging. In the United States, the main threats are pressure on habitat, poaching and traffic accidents.
Habitat opening also favors the northward movement of coyotes and bobcats, which may be an additional factor in lynx population declines, for example in the northeastern US and eastern Canada. In contrast, in most of the Alaskan and Canadian ranges, habitats are of high quality and intact, protected or relatively well managed. Every year, at least 11,000 lynx are legally hunted or trapped, mostly in Canada and Alaska.