Biologists hoping to reintroduce more lynx in Colorado

The Associated Press
Thursday November 14, 2002

DENVER — State biologists are hoping to introduce 150 more Canada lynx to Colorado in an effort to get the endangered cats to reproduce. 

The state released 96 Canadian lynx in 1999 and 2000 to re-establish the long-haired, tuft-eared cat in Colorado. Trapping, poisoning and development had wiped out the state’s lynx population, with the last confirmed sighting before reintroduction coming in 1973 near Vail. 

At most, 53 of the lynx are alive today, and the cats are spread widely across 10,000 square miles. There’s no evidence that they’re reproducing, biologists said. 

“Maybe we missed something, or they mated later than we anticipated,” said Tanya Shenk, the Division of Wildlife biologist in charge of the lynx project. 

But wildlife trackers found no kittens this summer, and aerial flights confirmed that the animals were moving around as normal; they would stay put for awhile if they had kittens, Shenk said. 

She believes it will take about 150 more lynx to bring the species’ density on line with Canada and Alaska. 

“The point was, let’s give this experiment everything we can to make it a success,” she said. If the animals still don’t reproduce, biologists will re-evaluate whether Colorado can support a viable population. 

Wildlife Commission Chairman Rick Enstrom said while he would like for the experiment to continue, there may not be enough money. 

About $200,000 in lottery funds funneled through Great Outdoors Colorado paid for trappers to catch 50 lynx and ship them to Colorado, said Jeff Ver Steeg, terrestrial wildlife manager for the Division of Wildlife. 

The reintroduction program costs about $350,000 a year, mostly paid for by Great Outdoors Colorado, he said. 

He said state officials will begin asking private groups, from ski areas to wildlife organizations, for funding if further lynx reintroductions are approved. 

Wildlife officials are waiting to see if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relaxes penalties for killing the cats or threatening habitats before voting on the proposal Friday. 

“It’d make reintroduction much more palatable,” said Wildlife Commission chairman Rick Enstrom. 

Anyone who kills a threatened species — even accidentally — can be prosecuted under the Endangered Species Act. That has worried ranchers who can legally kill bobcats threatening their livestock, because lynx look similar. 

Diane Katzenberger, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lakewood office, said the agency is working to ease some penalties, such as prosecuting hunters or ranchers who accidentally kill lynx in very specific conditions. 

“We’re not going to start allowing anything; we’re not allowing lynx shooting,” she said.