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America Steps Up To Protect The Long-Legged — And Rare — Canada Lynx

<p>Flickr:<a class="checked-link" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithmwilliams/4465380932/sizes/m/" style="text-decoration: none;">Keith Williams</a> CC BY-SA 2.0</p>

A full-grown Canada lynx is two dozen pounds of furred muscle, razor claws and ears with little tufts - not your average tabby, in other words.

Don't call this young Canada lynx a "kitty-cat." (Flickr: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region CC BY-SA 2.0)

But they're getting a helping hand from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which designated 24.9 million acres of forest in Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Washington and Wyoming as protected areas for these cats on Thursday.

(Flickr: Jeremiah John McBride CC BY-SA 2.0)

The protected habitat was born out of five years of court challenges between snowmobile associations and conservation groups. Although most of the conservationists are pleased that parts of the lynxes' range will be protected from activities that cause "destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat," such as forging new snowmobile trails, some point out that a key part of the lynx habitat will not be protected.

"The high-quality lynx habitat in the Kettle River Range deserves federal protections," says Dave Werntz, Conservation Northwest's science and conservation director. "Lynx were once abundant in northeast Washington but have not recovered from historic over-trapping, breaking the link in the network of lynx populations deemed essential for recovery."

(Flickr: Jeremiah John McBride CC BY-SA 2.0)

Jim Zelenak, a USFWS wildlife biologist, tells the Associated Press that the designation emphasizes where lynx can survive long-term. The omitted habitat is "marginal" or "just too far away from the main population," Zelenak says to the AP. "We need to stick to the biology of the animals."

It's difficult to quantify the Canada lynx population in the U.S., which fluctuates with both prey availability (they eat mainly snowshoe hares) and cats prowling between Canada and the States.