Shifting politics of lynx reintroduction |

Shifting politics of lynx reintroduction

Opposition within Colorado was strong in 1998 and early 1999 on the eve of lynx reintroduction. Since then, the program seems to have gained acceptance.

In 1998, the Colorado Woolgrowers Association and other agriculture groups argued that effects of reintroducing lynx had not been documented. Guides in the San Juan Mountains predicted the demise of ptarmigan, a species already skidding.

Media criticism was also broad and sometimes intense. The Rocky Mountain News ridiculed the program. At the rival Denver Post, a hunting and fishing columnist described the lynx reintroduction program as a “waste of money.”

Even some environmental groups, including the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, offered a cold shoulder to the reintroduction, arguing that it was better to wait until more studies had been performed. Once the reintroduction got under way, and several lynx died of starvation, animal rights activists loudly denounced the effort. Newspapers were filled with letters of protest.

Gene Byrne, who headed up the reintroduction, recalls it as a dark time. He and others even questioned if they should scrap the program.

“There was a lot of soul-searching going on,” Byrne says. “It was a tough time on all of us, with a lot of tears, a lot of sadness.

This distrust of the wildlife agency may have been reflected in an edict from Colorado legislators the next winter that henceforth, they would have to approve the reintroduction of any species. Clearly, many were thinking of another predator, the gray wolf.

Now, the opposition seems to have softened. The Rocky Mountain News has essentially adopted the legal logic of state wildlife biologists while remaining skeptical of their biology and motives. Even animal-rights activists have softened their criticism.

Livestock groups opposed that initial release, fearful that it would cause diminished use of federal lands for grazing. Now seeming to accept the lynx reintroduction as a lesser of evils, they begrudge having their livestock play second fiddle to lynx on federal lands.

“We’re still unhappy with the lynx issue,” says Bonnie Kline of the Colorado Woolgrowers. “It’s not a depredation issue. It’s a matter of getting regulated out of business.”

Greg Walcher, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, essentially agrees. He told an interviewer in May that federal land managers may use the Endangered Species Act as a way to end livestock grazing.

Paranoia? Not necessarily, says one 30-year state wildlife officer.

“This puts the livestock owners on guard, gives them a real sense of paranoia that their (grazing allotments) will be cut, and I don’t think it’s an unfounded fear. Some will try to use the lynx to remove livestock operators from public lands.”

Ironically, while agreeing with Walcher in this instance, the wildlife officer says Walcher muzzled him and many others in Colorado from speaking with reporters.

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