Southern Rockies lynx plans still disputed |

Southern Rockies lynx plans still disputed

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

Lynx are native to Colorado, but settlers, ranchers and hunters had killed most of them by 1970.

Before state wildlife officials decided to re-establish the cats, the last confirmed lynx sighting was near Vail in 1973.

In the 1990s, Colorado wildlife officials launched an ambitious reintroduction effort, transplanting about 200 lynx from Canada and Alaska.

About the same time, lawsuits by environmental groups spurred the federal government to list lynx as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The cats thrive in Canada and Alaska, where their numbers fluctuate in tandem with well-documented population cycles of snowshoe hares, their main prey. Lynx also live in Montana, Wyoming, Washington, as well as in Maine and Minnesota. The federal government has mapped critical habitat in most of those areas.

The lynx released in Colorado had several years of successful reproduction, suggesting early progress for the reintroduction effort.

But in the past few years, biologists have found only a few kittens. The decline in births is still a mystery, but researchers are tracking snowshoe hares in a few places to determine whether the populations rise and fall.

It may be that the lynx haven’t had enough food to reproduce the last two years.

Some of the lynx released in the San Juans of Colorado have wandered into New Mexico and even as far as Utah.

Several lynx have been killed on Interstate 70. Another was hit by a car on Highway 9 near Breckenridge last year. Others have been killed illegally by poachers and ranchers.

Biologists have put tiny transmitters on many of the cats to track their movements. From the primary release area near Creede, the lynx have established several other core habitat areas, notably around Independence Pass, between Leadville and Aspen.

Around Summit County, the key areas for lynx include the forests between Copper Mountain and Vail, where preliminary evidence suggests that at least one female has set up a home range.

A forested corridor around Keystone and Montezuma also is believed to be important for lynx movement. Several lynx have been sighted at Keystone and Arapahoe Basin the past few years. Lynx also have moved north and south through the mountain east of the Eisenhower Tunnel.

All the trees used to make the paper for the multiple lynx studies in recent years could probably shelter quite a few of the wild cats. But the process is far from finished.

Conservation groups have appealed the southern Rockies lynx amendment, claiming it has too many loopholes for logging and energy development.

Similarly, conservation groups have challenged a federal critical habitat plan for the cats, mainly because Colorado was left off the map completely.

Federal biologists said the status of the state’s reintroduced population is uncertain and that lynx habitat in Colorado is not needed to ensure the persistence of the species in North America.

Conservation groups say the Endangered Species Act requires the federal government to protect ” and actively recover ” lynx across significant portions of its historic range, including Colorado.

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