Lampreys: A Key Species in the High Desert Ecosystem

There is something special about a river that resonates with most people. Even when I was very young, I remember loving the smell and sound of water. Flipping rocks to catch crayfish and caddisflies, chasing minnows in the shallows, and watching salmon spawn on wide gravel beds under gin clear water are the kind of memories that filled my childhood. A kid in a creek or on the banks of a river is a biologist whether they realize it or not.

Riparian zones, the areas and vegetation adjacent to water, are extraordinarily rich places for life. All kinds of unique animals live in and along rivers, and especially as a kid it never took me long to find something I’d never seen before that would result in instant fascination. On one particular visit to a local creek as a child I wandered downstream from the splashing and noise of other kids swimming in the shallows. I wanted to see fish and insects and needed to find undisturbed water to do so. As I waded along a flicker of movement caught my eye in the deeper water to my left. Startled, I leapt on top of the closest boulder to get my feet out of the water as an alien-looking little brown creature emerged from the depths and into the sunlight, passing by the rock I was perched on as it found its way downstream. It was a silly thing to be afraid of; the creature was only about four inches long, but was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was long and slender and it undulated as it swam, almost slithering through the water like a snake. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what I’d seen was not a reptile at all, but rather a very unique and special fish called a lamprey.

There some clear characteristics we look for in the kinds of animals we display at the High Desert Museum as we strive to connect people to wildlife. We focus on creatures that are a part of high desert ecosystems, critters that have scientific importance, are of particular conservation concern, that have an interesting biology or natural history, and animals with a strong connection to culture. Taking those things into consideration, I cannot think of a more appropriate species for us to display than lamprey.

The most prominent species in Oregon are the Western brook and Pacific lamprey (the fish I saw so many years ago was probably the smaller brook lamprey species). Both are anadromous like salmon. This means that they are born in inland streams but migrate to the Pacific before returning again to reproduce. As migratory species they connect ocean and High Desert ecosystems, transporting nutrients inland from the sea. Upon entering fresh water to migrate and spawn, salmon and lamprey both stop eating. Instead they rely on huge stores of fat and oils within their bodies to see them through to the end. Some salmon will survive for months, their bodies deteriorating as they use up stored calories waiting for conditions to be just right to reproduce. Lampreys however, take this strategy to the extreme. Fish Entering the Columbia River in April or May will work their way through the river systems, possibly finding their way to some clear mountain stream here in the High Desert region, where they will shelter in the rocks for over a year, not spawning until the following summer. The physiology that allows them to do this means that their flesh is full of energy, and a tremendous resource for a vast ecological community that includes birds, mammals, people, other fish, and even plants that are the beneficiaries of lamprey nutrients after they spawn and die. The lamprey is an undeniably important and valuable component of High Desert ecosystems.

The lamprey is also a living fossil. One of the best known “living fossils” is Coelacanth, the famous fossil fish rediscovered alive in Africa in 1938. It arrived on the scene a paltry 80 million years ago. Crocodiles emerged about 200 million years ago and dinosaurs a mere 30 million before that. Lamprey predate them all, with a fossil record that stretches more than 360 million years. The evolution and persistence of lamprey in the fossil record is just one aspect of the fish that makes them so scientifically valuable and interesting. Whether you are a professional ichthyologist, a child perched on boulder in some remote Oregon stream, or a visitor to the High Desert Museum, there is a lot to learn about these wonderful fish. Visit our Autzen Otter Exhibit to see lamprey up close.

Native Foxes in Central Oregon: Part 3

Beginning in March 2015 Museum staff and volunteers, in collaboration with the USFS, ODFW, The Oregon Zoo, have placed more than ten bait stations and hair snares in areas of the Deschutes National Forest that had never before been surveyed for fox.

A whole deer is too heavy to carry into the forest and it’s more than a fox can eat, but venison is often still the preferred bait. The leg of a deer or some other smaller piece of meat is attached to a tree above a mechanism designed to snag a tuft of hair from any curious fox that visits for a free meal. A remote camera is attached to another tree facing the bait. As forest animals wander into view, a motion detector triggers the camera and a photo is taken.

When Museum wildlife staff or volunteers visit the bait station every month or two, they check the camera for photos of a fox. If there is one, hair is taken from the hair snare mechanism, documented, and bagged. Like any good biologist, we are also always looking for scat, and any we find that looks like it came from a fox is also bagged. Those samples go to a lab at the University of California at Davis for DNA analysis. There, researchers generate data that may hold answers to questions about habitat connectivity, what subspecies are present, and whether or not our high country native foxes are hybridizing with introduced populations at lower elevations.

Back at the Museum, images from the cameras are sorted and broken down into data. Numbers on a spreadsheet indicate what animals are using the forest at specific points in time and space. Thousands upon thousands of images are scrutinized, one at a time, with much of the work done by the Museum’s own “mammal team” volunteers.

Those same volunteers give daily carnivore talks. At those interpretive presentations, visitors get to learn about the ecology of many forest carnivores including foxes. They can touch a montane fox pelt and see a skull, as well as learn about the ongoing research and the story of mountain foxes unfolding in our own backyard. More than that, and one of the things that I love so much about the High Desert Museum, those presentations frequently become much more than a lecture. They sometimes turn into vibrant conversations between interpreter and audience, a two-way exchange of experiences, ideas and information.

Bend is a community of people with strong ties to the surrounding forest. People see foxes while recreating in the woods, and through the Museum, many people who previously gave foxes little more than passing notice have become more aware of the issues surrounding them. Now when they go hiking they notice tracks and scat, take photographs and record where they find foxes. Often they call me or return to the Museum to share their experiences. Some of my best leads about where to look for animals have come from engaged visitors sharing their knowledge of the forest with me after hearing our daily programs. The project has in many ways become an unofficial kind of citizen science.

In large part because of the flood of new data coming in, the USFWS determined in late 2015 not to list Oregon populations of Sierra Nevada Red Fox on the Endangered Species Act. However, just because they are not listed as endangered does not mean that foxes and other forest carnivores are not at risk. More information is clearly needed to make good data-driven decisions about managing many of these wildlife species, and biologists with the USFS and ODFW are hard at work trying to collect that information despite limited budgets and an already heavy workload.

Since that first sighting with my family in 2011, I have not had more than a fleeting glance of a fox in the woods. The flash of a white-tipped tail in the timber is about all I usually get, but I am thankful other people are seeing them and sharing those sightings with us. With support from the Oregon Zoo, the Museum will continue to assist state and federal biologists who are working hard to manage our wildlife resources. Staff and volunteers will monitor our cameras for foxes and other wildlife in the eastern foothills of the Cascades for as long as our help is useful. We will also continue to follow the changing story of the Sierra Nevada red fox in Oregon, and share it as it unfolds with visitors at our daily carnivore talks and other programs. I hope to check many more cameras in the year ahead, and to be lucky enough one day soon to see another Sierra Nevada red fox playing in the wildflowers in the Deschutes National Forest.

Native Foxes in Central Oregon: Part 2

Around the same time I saw the fox on the Cascade Lakes Highway, I was working on an undergraduate research project at OSU-Cascades. We were in the early stages of fleshing out a study idea using remote cameras to document the behavior of scavenger species around carrion. The work was tedious and unpleasant. Road-killed deer would be moved, with proper permits of course, into the forest. We then mounted remote cameras to see what carnivorous animals would come to feast. The images we captured would be used to test various hypotheses about how wild animals discover carrion and utilize it as a food resource. The job was much worse in the heat of summer, and the smell often

Not long after my family’s roadside fox encounter, my family was back at the lake. On the drive home we again encountered a mule deer that had been struck and killed by a car as it tried to cross the road same less than a mile from where we had seen the fox. It was a valuable opportunity to get a carcass already in the woods. No need to move it very far or touch it more than absolutely necessary. It would be a dirty job nonetheless, but a short downhill drag would have the deer into the trees and in an acceptable location. My family was not thrilled about helping, so I made a quick call to a fellow student who came up that evening and set up a camera.

Several weeks later, we returned to see what we’d caught on camera.

It’s always exciting to retrieve a trail camera. You never know what you’ll see in the images. This time though, we did not expect much. Experience told us that activity around carcasses that time of year is relatively predictable. High summer temperatures mean rapidly decaying meat, a good resource for specialized obligate scavengers, but not necessarily for most other species. Turkey vultures dominated our summertime data. Nevertheless, it had crossed my mind that the fox might visit. A smelly carcass will sometimes attract carnivores out of curiosity if not hunger. Sure enough, as we toggled through the images one-by-one, there was a fox. However this one was not black; she was red just like most people would expect a fox to be. Now we knew there were at least two in the area, and even at that time the significance of the discovery was not lost on us. Only a month earlier news stories had been circulating of a rare fox being recorded on Mt. Hood.

There is a lot we don’t know about native red fox in Oregon. For a long time there was confusion about which subspecies was even present. Earlier sources identified them not as Sierra Nevada, but as Cascade Red Fox, the same subspecies you find in the mountains of Washington State.

Old wildlife distribution maps are full of straight lines which often indicate a gap in scientific understanding at the time more so than a realistic boundary between populations. Some of those maps show the Oregon/California border as the separation between the two subspecies in question. More recently, the science has suggested that the foxes in Oregon are likely more closely related to populations in California, and are the Sierra Nevada subspecies. More data will help answer the question, but in my mind at least, the Columbia River is a far more realistic barrier between them than a human political border, as much as Oregonians may want to believe that Oregon foxes are good at keeping Californian foxes out of the state.

A few years back, this revelation had some significant policy and management implications. While all three of the Pacific Northwest red fox subspecies are considered to be rare and at risk, in 2010 the Sierra Nevada subspecies was petitioned by environmental groups for Endangered Species Act protection, triggering an official policy process that ideally would be based on lots of good data. But in those early years very little was known about the fox. Many believed the Sierra Nevada subspecies was one of the most imperiled carnivores on the continent, with only a few dozen individuals remaining in a few remnant populations in Northern California. That was before they started popping up in Oregon. Since those early Oregon discoveries in 2011 and 2012, the number of fox sightings has gone up, a lot. Researchers using trail cameras to look for wolverines in 2013 and 2014 turned up no traces of that montane mustelid in the Three Sisters Wilderness, but they did find foxes. My own little scavenger project ultimately documented the animals at four separate locations outside of the wilderness on Mt. Bachelor, and biologists and volunteers working for the nonprofit Friends of the Central Cascades Wilderness have also found them in the area. Foxes have been documented in Crater Lake National Park and on Mt. Hood. Research has been ongoing in the southern portion of their range in California, as well.

Perhaps more striking than the far flung remote camera detections of shy, elusive foxes off the beaten path, is the fact that recreationists have also been encountering the animals with increasing frequency in much more developed portions of the forest. In recent years some of the animals here in Central Oregon have become habituated to humans, something that is unfortunately not unusual for red foxes throughout their range. On a nearly weekly basis excited members of the public send me photos of foxes. My inbox has photos of a black fox by the road during Pole-Pedal-Paddle, and a red one under the ski lift at Timberline. Visitors show me cell phone images of foxes at Hoodoo, and foxes standing between the cars at the snow parks on Mt. Bachelor looking for scraps of food.

The Cascade foxes of Mt. Rainier in Washington are also famously tame, allowing tourists to hand feed them and take photographs. Constant sightings of a few habituated animals creates the impression of abundance and a burgeoning population, sometimes making the issue confusing for public audiences at the museum when we attempt to weave a complex story of habitat loss, climate change, conservation concerns, and huge gaps in the data for red foxes, despite their apparent weakness for hotdogs and other free handouts in the Mt. Bachelor parking lot.

Clearly, there was work to be done. Museum staff partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to search for the elusive red foxes.

Native Foxes in Central Oregon: First Contact

It was the end of a hot summer day in 2012 on Little Cultus Lake. My wife was riding shotgun, two sunburned kids on the backseat, all of us singing along with the radio. As I eased around one of the winding corners of the Cascade Lakes Highway towards Bend, a flash of movement caught my eye. I slowed down, squinting to see a dark animal with a bushy tail and long, skinny legs drift across the asphalt. It was in no hurry as it moved through a shallow ditch and took a seat among the daisies and lupines along the edges of the ditch. I needed a better look, so slowed down and stopped about 40 yards away. Several years later, my work would focus on this elusive creature.

The animal was a red fox, a species known for being elusive. His coat was coal black and silver-tipped; the very tip of its bushy tail looked like it had been dipped in white paint. He was also very small. He ignored us altogether, snapping at insects around his head while his plume of a tail flipped back and forth in the grass. He scratched behind an ear, then wandered off toward the tree line. We watched for a few more seconds and then continued on our way as the fox disappeared into the shadows of the Deschutes National Forest.

Most Oregonians don’t think of foxes as rare. While the red fox is not as common in this state as in other parts of the country, it is not all that unusual to see one. Farmers, hunters, trappers and many other people who frequent the outdoors will tell you about the foxes they have seen, usually on irrigated farmlands around the state. However, the mountain foxes are more cryptic and, it would seem, less abundant. In order to understand what is going on here in Central Oregon, you need to know a little bit about the natural history of the red fox.

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is one of the most widespread and genetically diverse mammals on the planet, with as many as 45 recognized subspecies occupying every continent except Antarctica. Thanks to the historical popularity of fox hunting in England, as well their valued hide in the fur industry for centuries, some of those subspecies have been moved around the world into places where they do not belong. Introduced intentionally or having escaped from cages, these animals become invasive. Red fox are not native to Australia; hence, all six million or more of the foxes on that continent are descended from introduced stock. The same is true for some populations of red fox in the American West. Animals in parts of California, Oregon and other states are likely descended from non-native subspecies, and we think they tend to be those living at lower elevations and are the ones most often spotted by humans.

North America has native foxes as well, 13 subspecies according to some sources. Three of those species live in the Pacific Northwest. All three are frequently referred to as “montane fox”, or foxes that live in the mountains. The Rocky Mountain Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes macroura) is found in the Rockies and the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon, while the Cascades Fox (Vulpes vulpes cascadensis) and the Sierra Nevada Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes necator) inhabit the mountains running up the middle of Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. These animals evolved to live, so the theory goes, in a much cooler prehistoric North America. As the climate warmed over the millennia, these foxes retreated to the mountains. There among the conifer forests and talus slopes they adapted to deep winter snows, cold temperatures and a harsh environment.

Montane foxes have lush, warm coats. They are smaller in body size than the red fox most people are familiar with and have toe pads that are completely covered by winter fur, attributes we think aid them in moving across the surface of deep-packed and drifted snow.

As skiers in Central Oregon are well aware, those snowy high elevation conditions are increasingly unreliable. A changing climate and human development put species dependent on high mountain habitats at risk. In many recent years the snow has barely come at all. Other years it is heavy but wet, melts quickly, and is gone earlier in the spring.

Nonetheless, the mountains are beautiful. Numerous types of recreation are popular and human disturbance is pervasive in all seasons. The habitat has changed, and is continuing to change in ways that may not be good for montane foxes and other species that share their proclivity for high elevations and historically colder environs. As those little islands of remaining cold mountain forest become smaller and more fragmented, they also become increasingly isolated from one another. Separated by greater and greater expanses, the land may become devoid of mountain fox. There were many unanswered questions about what was happening with these intriguing creatures in the Cascades that humans weren’t seeing. So a group of us came up with a plan to try to find out.

Sierra Nevada red fox photos courtesy of LeeAnn Kreigh

Sage Grouse: Icon of the Sagebrush Sea

My fascination with sage grouse began 20 years ago with an invitation by a friend to hunt the majestic greater sage-grouse with our falcons. I arrived in late November at his camp on the banks of the Sandy River in Wyoming, along a stretch peppered with Oregon Trail gravesites. This treeless, exposed stretch of river felt more like a moonscape than a center of a vibrant ecosystem. The Sandy flowed during the brisk, but sunny mid-day weather, but locked with sheets of ice during the -20F nighttime temperature — no doubt a brutal experience for the thousands of pioneers racing to beat the descending winter.

We were on the cusp of the ‘winter grouse’– a term used by falconers with a kind of spiritual reverence to describe the sage grouse, in their transformation to a near-immortal condition. While most gamebirds, like pheasants and partridge, suffer their highest mortality during the harsh winter months, the sage grouse seems to turn nature’s rules upside-down. Instead of huddling inside shrubby cover for warmth and protection, mid-winter sage grouse are found across exposed plateaus, browsing short-statured sage in 20 mile per hour winds and subzero temperatures. They not only survive, but they gain weight.

I heard stories of their winter congregations, and like many tales of “the good ol’ days”, I was skeptical. But the second day, my friend took me to the spot he estimated was the largest annual winter congregation of sage grouse in the species’ range. As we got out of the truck, you could see the heads of grouse peering over the sagebrush as far as you could see. Off in another direction, I shouted to my friend, “Ducks!?” pointing to a distant milling flock of birds 800 feet up in the sky, that probably numbered nearly a thousand. “No. Grouse,” he said. In yet another direction grouse were taking off from the sage and were so thick their wing-tips were slapping each-other. Within seconds, they were pin-dots over a large, distant butte. As we left the scene, hundreds of antelope filed over a ridgeline and a herd of wintering elk from the Wind River Range, held fast in the center of a huge sage-dominated flat. I was left stunned.

That exact spot is now home to the largest natural gas field in the world, the Jonah Field. This was the species’ stronghold–so the Jonah Field, to us, represented the beginning of the end. Yet in the years following this development, the conservation community engaged in the issue in a way never-before seen. Agencies, non-profit conservation organizations and private ranchers have pursued a collaborative approach to sage grouse conservation and restoration that holds significant promise. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to make an announcement this September to decide whether or not the greater sage-grouse will be listed as threatened or endangered under the authority of the Endangered Species Act. Will a proactive, collaborative approach win the day or will regulation be the species’ safety net? Please visit Sage Grouse: Icon of the Sagebrush Sea and learn more about this pivotal species of the High Desert.

Photo courtesy Steve Chindgren

A New Delivery for the High Desert Museum!

In the midst of staff preparations for our 2015 summer season, our porcupine Honey had a baby!

A baby porcupine is called a porcupette (believe it or not). After a seven month gestation, they are born with their eyes open and all 30,000 or so quills in place, characteristics that set porcupines apart from many of their rodent relatives. The quills are soft at birth (which I’m sure mama appreciates), but they harden within a couple of hours after birth, providing the porcupette with some protection against predators.

Able to crawl soon after birth, the porcupette spends its first few days nursing, sleeping, moving about and hiding behind mom. Dads provide no care for their offspring. In this case, Thistle, the dad, was moved to another enclosure. For the first two weeks of life the porcupette nurses at night and will continue to nurse until four months old.

As an arboreal or tree dwelling rodent, a baby’s climbing instinct kicks in mere weeks after birth. They forage in trees and transition toward a strictly herbivorous diet that includes leaves, green plants, twigs and the cambium layer of trees.

Honey has taken to motherhood and is protective of her baby, often standing in between it and viewers who linger a little too long for her liking. As with wild porcupettes, our newest member usually hides out during the day and seeks shelter in a safe area on the ground while its mother retreats to the trees drawing attention away from her offspring. We’ve tried to minimize our handling of the porcupette and don’t yet know its gender.

A nocturnal animal, the porcupines are best viewed early morning or late afternoon in their exhibit outside of the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center.

Building the Past to Experience the Present

In Living History, we’re always looking for ways to bring our visitors back to the past. This gives them an authentic and memorable experience. One such experience is the sight, sound, and smell of a black powder musket being fired. For the fur trappers camp during Frontier Days (c. 1820) we had one small need: to build a brand new Northwest Trade Gun.

The Northwest Trade Gun itself is not an overly complicated or even hard to manufacture gun. On the contrary, it’s designed to be built quickly so that it can be traded for goods, thus it being named a “trade” gun. Make no mistake; building a gun is called gunsmithing for a reason. Even today when you buy a flintlock musket gun building kit, it isn’t as simple as opening the box, reading the instructions, putting part A into hole B and giving it a finished coat. It’s a gun kit, not a Lego set.

There are no “legosmiths”.

Crafting an older style gun is as much a test of skill as it is a test of patience. A modern day expert gunsmith can make a flintlock rifle from a kit in about 40 hours of labor time. That isn’t including the days, weeks or even months it takes to apply finishing coats and allowing them to dry. If you didn’t care about appearances, but just wanted a functional firearm? You’re still looking at a good 30 hours for your gunsmithing time. For someone who’s never attempted gunsmithing? Maybe 80 hours.

To build a Northwest Trade Gun you must drill and shape the wood and metal to your whim, even with a kit. Of course, a very solid grasp of mathematics is required for precision drilling, but you also must have the hands and fingers of an artist as you shape the stock to its desired form. Even with today’s modern power tools and equipment, this is a tedious process.

I, of course, had no idea what I was doing, so a good gentleman by the name of Jim Malloy took me under his wing and showed me the basics. Jim Malloy himself is the President of the Beaver State Historical Gunmakers Guild located in Prineville, Oregon. I foolishly assumed that the kit would come to us quite nearly completed and all that we would have to do is make it look pretty. I have never been so wrong in my life.

Regardless, the Trade Gun was finally finished, and I’m rather proud of the end result. Of course, I did make sure I wasn’t the first one to shoot it, though.

Treasures of the vault

When I first began working for the High Desert Museum, I was elated to find something tucked away in the vault that I never expected here: this 42 Liberator. It immediately became my favorite object in the collection. I am a huge fan of vintage Harley-Davidsons for many reasons but have always been drawn to the sense of freedom they embody. It would be difficult to find a better ambassador of freedom than a Liberator. What makes this motorcycle so important to me is what it paved the way for. With the popularity and economic strength Harley-Davidson had after WWII, the company was able to launch a brand new big V-twin engine in 1948, affectionately known as the Panhead. I was born and raised on the back of my father’s Panhead which I now own and ride, over 30 years later.

Museum adds a barred owl to its raptor collection

We’re excited to have just added a fifth owl species to our collection: the barred owl. This beautiful and remarkable species joins our popular hawks, eagles and falcons currently on exhibit.

The barred owl is a large owl native to the mixed deciduous/coniferous forests of the eastern U.S. Throughout the 20th century, the species made a rapid westward expansion, possibly across the Northern Great Plains or Canadian boreal forest, into the Washington Cascades, and now south into Oregon and California. The owl has become controversial due to its status as an invasive species (a non-native species that causes economic or environmental harm) whose presence has severely impacted spotted owl populations in the Northwest.

A species is not considered native to a particular ecosystem in the US merely because it is native somewhere else within the U.S. Human alterations of forest ecosystems are responsible for the barred owl’s westward expansion and its capacity to thrive in the Pacific Northwest.

The barred owl is bigger, more aggressive, and nests in higher density. They disrupt the nesting of the spotted owl, compete with them for food, and literally chase them out of the area. In habitats where the barred owl competes with the northern spotted owl, the barred owl tends to win every time.

Wildlife managers entrusted to protect the spotted owl’s dwindling populations are now faced with a painful choice: Allow the invasive barred owl to continue displacing the spotted owls – likely resulting in the eventual extinction of the northern spotted owl — or, protect existing populations of spotted owls by removing barred owls found within spotted owl habitat. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has concluded that the strategic removal of barred owls may be key to the future of the spotted owl. They’ve started an experimental barred owl removal program in California, Oregon and Washington to evaluate whether removals will benefit spotted owl populations.

Although removal programs often elicit controversy, endangered species biologists only use such measures when the loss of a listed species (or population) is likely without intervention. The brown-headed cowbird and corvids (ravens, crows, jays etc.) are examples of wildlife native to North America that became invasive due to human-caused changes to various habitats that gave them an unnatural advantage. Their targeted removal in small areas was critical to maintaining viable populations of endangered species like the snowy plover and Kirtland’s warbler.

Having a barred owl on exhibit at our Bird of Prey Center allows the Museum to present important information about spotted owl conservation while also exhibiting a fascinating owl species.

The High Desert Museum’s barred owl came from a rehabilitation facility in Washington. The young bird did not develop some of its flight feathers correctly, so it cannot survive in the wild. There are four other owl species on exhibit: The barn owl, great horned owl, burrowing owl and screech owl. In all, there are more than 20 birds of prey in the Museum’s live collection.

– By John Goodell, Curator of Natural History

The story of Snowshoe the lynx

Snowshoe, a male hybrid lynx who lived at the High Desert Museum for nine years, died last night, November 10, 2014. He had been under a veterinarian’s care recently for kidney failure. Snowshoe’s exact age isn’t known but it’s believed he was in his 20s, having lived much longer than lynx do in the wild.

Snowshoe came to live at the Museum in 2005 after he was found, in poor condition, by a Pacific Crest Trail hiker near Castle Crags State Park in California. David Osborn was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail when he came around a corner on the east fork of Sulphur Creek and spotted the lynx on a sandbar. At first, he thought it was a big house cat. But as he neared, he realized it was much, much bigger than that.

“He was lying in sphinx position”. Osborn says he tried to make himself look big and made loud noises — but the lynx “wasn’t impressed”. The cat “looked at me curiously and yawned, then stretched like a dog and started walking straight toward me.”

Osborn retreated behind a tree but the cat followed him. When another animal, possibly a deer, snapped a twig nearby, the cat became distracted and Osborn fled. He ran several miles and encountered off-duty Park Ranger Christopher “Brett” Mizeur.

Mizeur says that when Osborn told him he had seen what he believed was a lynx, Mizeur thought “he doesn’t know his cats”. Mizeur went back to town to pick up a large dog trap and roast beef. The men then returned to where Osborn first spotted the lynx. They carefully formed a trail of roast beef mounds between the cat and the trap. The hungry lynx fell for the trick, wolfing down the piles of beef as it walked directly into the crate.

“Then he went crazy”, according to Osborn. “He bent the metal”. The men found large branches to weave through the crate and carried the lynx back to the Mizeur’s truck.]Ranger Mizeur contacted Marianne Dickison with Shasta Wildlife Rescue and delivered the lynx to her. She took the cat to a veterinarian, who discovered the lynx had been neutered, declawed and its canine teeth pulled. The vet also said he lacked muscle, an indication the lynx had been kept in small quarters such as a crate for a long time. It was clear he had been kept as a pet and then released in the wild to fend for himself.

Because the lynx was a protected wildlife species and illegal to possess without special permits, the options in California were to euthanize him or find a suitable home, which wouldn’t be easy. But Dickison was determined not to let the lynx be euthanized. She took the cat home for a week as she searched for an appropriate facility to take him.

She contacted the High Desert Museum and staff there was happy to take him. High Desert Museum Wildlife Curator John Goodell said, “Snowshoe has been an ambassador for North American cat species and has had an educational impact on hundreds of thousands of Museum visitors. The lynx is an example of an apex predator that has an enormous home range but exists in very low densities and are difficult for biologists to detect, like the wolverine. Throughout the intermountain west, wildlife managers initiating large carnivore survey projects and these studies have shown lynx present in areas where they were thought to be absent. There are still many unknowns about their presence in the Cascades. Snowshoe has brought this story to life in our Museum community.”

Soon after the lynx arrived at the Museum, a competition was held among Central Oregon schoolchildren to come up with a name. “Snowshoe” won and he had been called that ever since. He is recognized for his beautiful golden eyes and bent right ear. He is thought to be a cross between Canadian lynx and Eurasian lynx. Lynx are solitary cats that hunt at night, so are rarely seen. They are stealthy hunters, with excellent hearing and eyesight so keen they can spot a mouse 250 feet away. They eat birds, mice and squirrels but prefer the snowshoe hare. Owning exotic animals, including all wild cats, was banned in Oregon in 2009.

Snowshoe’s care was supported in part by the Museum’s Adopt an Animal program, which helps fund the care of nearly 200 animals.