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Photo caption: A bobcat, not an elusive lynx, triggers a remote camera at 8800’ elevation below Silver Run plateau in the Beartooths.

LynxDurney tracks lynx and wolverines across the Beartooths for YRRC

BILLINGS, June 27, 2014 –Montana wilderness areas such as the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness (ABW) contain the last remaining suitable habitat for high elevation predators like wolverines (Gulo gulo) and Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) in the Continental United States. 

The research proposal of Simone Durney (’14) says “we know very little about the Montana populations of these elusive predators.”  

Co-funded by the Yellowstone River Research Center at RMC, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Cinnabar Foundation, and Montana Wilderness Association with support of other non-profit organizations, Durney is leading citizen-scientists this summer to find baseline data for lynx and wolverine populations in mountain areas identified as suitable habitat within the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. 

On June 25, a federal judge reiterated that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has until 2018 to come up with a “long-delayed” recovery plan for lynx, the Associated Press reported. 

The Canada lynx is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, while the wolverine is under review as a potential threatened species. In the ABW, wolverines have been recorded only six times since 1884 and lynx three times since 1999, mostly in drainages leading up the higher elevation plateaus where less people visit. Not much else is known about their distribution in the ABW. 

Located in Custer National Forest, Durney’s study follows USFS protocol for monitoring high-elevation top predators. She and her crew are methodically placing 16 motion detection cameras in the ABW, eight each in likely lynx and wolverine habitat.

Skunk and beaver scent attracts wolverines. Curious lynx respond to a visual display such as a dangling CD combined with scent of beaver castoreum and catnip oil. Scented hair snare stations surround each of the cameras, made of gun brushes for wolverines and nailed carpet pads for lynx. Sampling of hair allows DNA analysis to potentially recognize individuals and population sizes. 

Students are focusing on the area between the East Rosebud drainage and the Line Creek plateau. The ABW may provide excellent core habitat for both of these mainly snow-dependent species. Eight weeks in July and August comprise the study’s high-elevation field season.

The citizen-science aspect is “very exciting,” Durney said. She expects that citizen volunteers, found with help from local conservation organizations such the Montana Audubon Society, Montana Wilderness Association, and Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation will learn lots about wolverines and lynx and predator surveying on their hikes to retrieve data. Interested volunteers and media should contact Kayhan Ostovar at (406) 657-1175 or

Blake Brightman (’15) of Ellisville, Mo., and Sean Flynn (’15) of Sioux Falls, S.D., are helping Durney train citizen-scientist volunteers and collect data. RMC faculty Kayhan Ostovar and Luke Ward advise Durney’s field wildlife research and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis, respectively.  

A trial camera placed at the June snowline already recorded an elk, a bobcat (a smaller feline than a lynx), and a snowshoe hare.  

“I am excited to study species that I am very passionate about,” Durney said, “and eager to increase our knowledge, to help guide their conservation, to maintain their existence on this planet.” 

In summer 2013, working with botany professor Jennifer Lyman, Durney helped to establish permanent monitoring sites at nine botanical hotspots in the Pryor Mountains, some of which contain species of concern such as Shoshonea pulvinata. There too she collected baseline data to see what species were present and to what extent. With the information they collected, she and Lyman created a botanical hiker's guide to the Pryor Mountains, which is in press.

Resampling either research study in a few years may reveal population changes, from natural cycles, human intrusion, or climate change, that require adaptations of management. 

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