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July/August 2010 issue

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The Canada-U.S. Border

Living in the boreal forest, the Lynx, a medium-sized wild cat, can grow to a metre in length and averages 5 to 15 kilograms.
Lynx: The Cross-border Cat Catch a glimpse of the elusive cross-border cat in an expanded photo essay.
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Multimedia Discover more videos, interactive features and photo essays about the Canada-U.S. border.
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FEATURE STORIES & EXTRAS
  • Defining the Canada-U.S. Border

    On the frontier between Canada and the United States, weed whackers and wile keep the boundary clear and quiet.
    Read more »
  • Smuggler’s Inn

    At Smuggler’s Inn, guests are encouraged to watch cross-border smuggling from the comfort of their rooms.
    Read more »
  • First Nations’ Border Struggles

    In a land with no lines, how do you define the end of one territory and the beginning of another? Read more »
  • Lynx: The Cross-border Cat

    Lynx don’t care about the line between Ontario and Minnesota, and researchers on both sides are starting to pay attention. Read more »
  • Stanstead on the Borderline

    Boosting security in the border town of Stanstead, Quebec, divides a peaceful community. Read more »
  • Ontario’s Elvis Festival

    The King comes to Collingwood in a cross-border cultural exchange. Read more »
  • Multimedia

    Discover more videos, interactive features and photo essays about the Canada-U.S. border.
    View now »

Lynx: The Cross-border Cat (Page 1 of 2)

Lynx don’t care about the line between Ontario and Minnesota, and researchers on both sides are starting to pay attention.


By Cheryl Lyn Dybas with Photography by Ilya Raskin

Ron Moen rattles his grey pickup truck down a back road covered by hard-packed snow in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, a few dozen kilometres south of the Canada–U.S. border. We’re surrounded by a winter wonderland of rime-tipped balsam firs and frozen lakes that stretches north to Ontario and beyond. Moen skids to a halt beside a steep snowdrift, and we step out of the truck into banks so deep, they stop the six-foot-tall wildlife biologist in his tracks. It’s early March, dusk is settling, and all is silent. Moen and I slog a few metres toward the forest edge and enter a thicket of firs and alders, their boughs doubled over with ice from a recent storm. His voice muffled by the collar of his parka, Moen whispers, “It’s out there. Somewhere.”

Canadian Lynx
Map the Lynx’s range around Lake Superior.

“It” is Lynx canadensis, a northern forest cat as elusive as sasquatch. Known to the Ojibwa as “the vigilant protector of the people,” the lynx sees without being seen in this white-on-white world. Here in the boreal forest, the medium-sized wild cat, which can grow to a metre in length and averages 5 to 15 kilograms, appears to have it all: its main prey, the snowshoe hare; the brushy woods the hare prefers; and the deep snows that the lynx and hare bound across using the thick cushions of hair on the soles of their large feet. But the lynx — which lives in all provinces except Prince Edward Island and in Minnesota, Maine, Montana, Washington, Wyoming, Alaska and Colorado, where a reintroduction program has been under way since 1999 — became a prize catch when fur prices boomed in the 1970s and 1980s. It was hunted and pushed to the brink in the lower 48 states and has been listed as a threatened species for a decade, even though it is still trapped, mostly for fur coats, in Canada. (In response to overharvesting in the early 1900s, Ontario instituted a trapline registration system in 1947; the province’s population is said to be recovering.)

“A scenario predicted by climate-change models says the cat’s habitat could move as much as 200 kilometres by 2100.”

Biologists at Environment Canada believe there are at least 110,000 lynx in the country. Because the lynx is so secretive, however, population estimates are just that — estimates. Nobody knows how many live in the United States. (There may be lynx in Oregon and Idaho and from Wisconsin to New Hampshire, but experts believe the animals occasionally pass through and do not constitute established populations.) Fewer than 250 likely live in Minnesota, says Moen, a reserved 49-year-old based at the University of Minnesota Duluth. And as the continuous snow cover and boreal forest shift north, a scenario predicted by climate-change models, the cat’s habitat could move as much as 200 kilometres by 2100. Which means, says forest ecologist Lee Frelich of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, “Canadian wildlife biologists need only look south” to see the conservation challenges they’ll be facing in the near future.

Scientists on both sides of the border are trying to discover how much lynx populations in Ontario and Minnesota intermingle and which parts of the landscape play a critical role in their border crossings. Needless to say, lynx don’t respect the international boundary, crossing the line regularly in search of meals or mates. Yet because they’re a threatened species in the United States, they’re managed completely differently in the two countries, says Justina Ray, a biologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada.

Minnesota is currently at the southern edge of the lynx’s range east of the Rockies. Superior National Forest and Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming are two “priority areas” for lynx conservation, according to a 2007 report by The Nature Conservancy. “Intensive natural resources management intervention” will be required, the report says — in other words, the type of work that has taken Moen into these woods in search of lynx for more than seven years.

Out of sight behind the alders, Moen has set five box traps. Made of steel fencing and wood, with a trigger mechanism that shuts the door, the rectangular enclosures are baited with road-killed deer. Once trapped, as 35 have been over the years, the lynx is tranquilized using a pole syringe and is fitted with a Global Positioning System (GPS) or a Very High Frequency (VHF) radio collar so that Moen and his colleagues can track its movements. Moen also takes a blood sample to determine the animal’s health and for DNA analysis to identify individuals.

There are no lynx in Moen’s traps today, so we retreat to his truck. He opens the door and leans in, then emerges brandishing what looks like old-style TV rabbit ears to listen for the lynx already collared for his study. Each collar has its own frequency, which Moen can search for on his radio receiver. At first, we hear static. Then suddenly: beep-beep-beep.

Continued on Page 2 »



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Related content and resources:
Photo Club
View Henrietta Haniskova’s fashion photos from Collingwood’s Elvis Festival and read a one-on-one interview with the photographer.
Drawing the Border
Read about how it took almost a century of negotiation and compromise to establish the world’s longest undefended border.
Border Technology
Discover high-tech security on the border as a globetrotting adventurer takes a hike with his family through Waterton Lakes National Park into the U.S.
Evolution of the Canada-U.S. Border
See how the border between Canada and the U.S. has evolved over the past three centuries.


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Comments on this articleView all comments (14) | Leave a comment

I am a graduate of Stanstead College, I experienced the easy going nature of the border guards first hand in the 1970s, as I used to travel on foot across the border regularly to return to the U.S. for visits. I was present during the period in which security concerns were just beginning to surface; most surprising about this was it was initiated by Canada due to the Montreal Olympics. The "bar" was set in place to protect athletes from the travesty of the Munich Olympic debacle. Valid or not, safety concerns have been at the forefront for 40 years.

Submitted by Louis Brien on Monday, April 21, 2014


I was born in Rock Island 1941 and grew up in Graniteville. I went to school in Beebe Quebec. I have tried all possible routes to find out the year that the old school was torn down and replaced with the Beebe Intermediate School. It is next to impossible to find any info on the Three Villages as I knew them from 1940 - 1960. If you could help me with the dates I would appreciate it. Thank you.

Submitted by Betty ( Ellis ) Jacklin on Saturday, February 15, 2014


Could someone please point me in the direction of the 1955 Canadian National Geographic film? I'd like to view this for myself. Thankss!

Submitted by CKM on Friday, December 27, 2013


I'm Canadian and I was standing on the Canadian side filming houses and stuff on the US side when a US border patrol walkd over and asked : What are you doing filming US establishments. Told him it was nothing - I didn't mean anything by it - I was a tourist, to which he responded : and why were you filming at the other border crossing? Free trade, did you say? Wasn't that bad od an experience though - but I never returned...

Submitted by Mr FaV on Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I'm one of those bordertown dual citizens. Grew up in Stanstead, had Vermont friends, went to the Drive In in Derby Line. Grandmother, Mother, and all of us have moved back and forth across that line all of our lives. Locals know to report. Gates do not bother us, American and Canadian border guards know us and treat us well. It's never been a impediment to the two communities, which really are one community without the constrictions. Most of which exist in outsider's perceptions.

Submitted by Annie on Wednesday, August 21, 2013


After decades of normality the department of homeland security has 'Berlin Walled" this community fortunately the number of terrorists caught in this town has made it all worthwhile.

Submitted by bryan on Sunday, June 30, 2013


What about simply moving the border outside the city on both sides like the international peace park in North Dakota/Manitoba? Either side can drive into the area, but you clear customs when leaving from either side.

I'd love to see a completely open border (like the EU has inside the Schengen) but Canada's asylum rules might be a sticking point as would the US attitude towards guns.

Submitted by Stuart Friedman on Saturday, July 07, 2012


The United States has bigger problems to worry about than a small peaceful town. The United States can't keep the Mexican border safe so why worry about this peaceful area? Like I said already the United States has bigger problems they should be worrying about!

Submitted by Clinton on Friday, May 18, 2012


I use to live on Canusa Street when I was about 9 years old. Our neighbours with their American Flags on the front of their homes always had different school holidays than we did. I noticed that when I was a kid. We always crossed the Street to go play with them. And, the Customs Officers on both sides of Canusa were always friendly... back then.

Submitted by Bonnie Stevens on Friday, November 11, 2011


Lines of the mind. Closing the barn doors after the horses have escaped. Every one of the 9/11 attackers entered the States with permission of the U.S. government using government facilities… not slinking surreptitiously across the border through the reading room of a small town library.

Hiding out behind islands, in-ground motion sensors, hovering helicopters, spying on neighbours sharing a beer together… in the nine years since 9/11, how many nefarious terrorists have been nabbed crossing the street from Stanstead into Derby Line? Wouldn’t a massive wall down the middle of the town with spotlights, razor wire and patrolling armed guards ready to fire serve the same purpose and be more effective? Could that be any more – or less - ludicrous?

The Canadian Geographic film of 1955 prophetically acted as a snapshot of the past while nervously suggesting a future scenario no one could have imagined at the time. It’s one thing to slap down electrical tape to point out an imaginary line it’s quite another to effectively divide a community along ideological and political lines.

One question not addressed by the Canadian Geographic coverage is: Are the Canadian border agencies just as vigilant and reactionary as their U.S. counterparts in enforcing such a grievous act like exchanging a lemon-poppyseed cake with the folks across the street? Might one expect a Canadian SWAT team in a Zodiac to burst out from behind a rock to descend upon Grandpa and the grandkids from Vermont as they cast their lines for panfish?

Parenthetically, what WOULD be the reaction by Americans be IF Canada built an Israeli-style wall between the two countries? Could it be seen as a defiant sentiment of “Don’t trust US? We don’t trust YOU”? With subsequent hard feelings and ‘righteous’ indignation?

No one’s suggesting addressing security isn’t in everybody’s best interests. But in doing so, it needs to be remembered of what’s actually being defended: an imaginary dotted line that not only separates towns, but friends and families as well.

On a governmental level, that might not seem significant however - on a very human scale - dividing and alienating people is what led to the security measures in the first place.

Submitted by Kanowakeron on Wednesday, January 19, 2011












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