By Hannah Heimbuch
One of Alaska’s more elusive wild things made a seemingly casual appearance in downtown Homer on Dec. 3, sauntering past offices off Pioneer Avenue and the Poopdeck Trail.
The entire staff of the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust crowded to one office window to get a look at the lynx, said Executive Director Marie McCarty. They watched the large, mottled gray cat skirt the building.
“It wandered up from the lower part of our property, past our propane tank and then down our driveway a little bit,” McCarty said.
The lynx climbed a hill toward Captain’s Coffee, then sat to survey the Klondike Avenue property before making another pass by KHLT.
Both McCarty and co-worker Rick Cline couldn’t help but notice the wildcat moved with a certain amount of nonchalance, strolling toward Bonanza Street with what seemed to be little to no concern over its atypically public locale.
Lynx are known for their stealth, said wildlife biologist Steve Ebbert, a fact that keeps their healthy Homer population on the fringe of everyday detection.
“Most people would be surprised at how many lynx there actually are around here,” Ebbert said. “Unlike coyotes, wolves and big brown bears, lynx climb trees. So it’s easy for them to disappear when they want to. When they want to be invisible, they can go up, and they will.”
This penchant for flying under the radar and quick get-away abilities lend to the predator’s casual demeanor, Ebbert said.
“They are cool.”
Cat numbers on the Kenai Peninsula spiked recently following a preceding boom in the local snowshoe hare population, Ebbert said. Most of the predator populations around Homer have fattened up on the plentiful prey.
That increase should last up to a few years after the hare numbers started going back down.
“The lynx we’re seeing have benefited from that big boom,” Ebbert said. “But now there are fewer hares.”
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska’s snowshoe hares have an abundance cycle every eight to 11 years, approximately. Being the meal of choice for local lynx, the cats follow a similar cycle offset by a year or two.
The lynx is the only wildcat native to the northernmost state, and can weigh up to 40 pounds. It has notable tufts of fur on its feet and the tips of its ears, and often has a black-tipped tail. They have been trapped across Alaska for many years, often favored for their soft, mottled-gray fur.
The cat cruising Klondike Avenue looked to be about the size of an average Labrador retriever, Cline said, with the meaty paws and tell-tale pointy ears that made this rare sighting a quick ID.
In 20 years of living in the Homer area, Cline said this is the first time he’s spotted a lynx.
He said a few staff members ventured outside to scope out tracks, and saw that the lynx wasn’t the only woodland critter carving a path past the office that day.
“You’d see the snowshoe hare tracks, and then you’d see the lynx tracks,” Cline said.
According to Fish and Game, lynx typically travel between one and five miles a day. The generally stay within a 100-mile-square home territory.
The lackadaisical lynx was also spotted near the Homer Tribune office on Dec. 4, though it declined to comment on its travels.