The Crestone Eagle, May 2003:

Lynx released in southwestern Colo.

Four Canada lynx were released into the San Juan Mountains west of Creede as part of the Division of Wildlife’s (DOW) effort to restore the native cat to the state. Greg Walcher, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, underscored the importance of the lynx reintroduction program to the state.

“The lynx project is one of the most important things the state can do for the environment,” said Walcher. “It is just one example of Governor Owens and his Administration doing everything possible to fulfill our moral obligation to leave Colorado better than we found it.”

The two male and two female lynx were released on April 3—the first of more than 30 that will be released this spring. Over the next five years, as many as 180 lynx will be released. The Colorado Wildlife Commission approved the releases last November. The DOW released a total of 96 lynx in 1999 and 2000. While lynx have found adequate prey and established territories, there has been no evidence that young lynx have survived.

“We’ve established four of the seven criteria in Colorado for establishing a viable population of lynx,” said Tanya Shenk, the DOW’s chief lynx researcher. “These include developing successful release protocols, having lynx survive for extended periods in the wild, having lynx establish territories and the onset of breeding behavior. But to date, there has been no successful reproduction.”

Shenk and other biologists inside and outside Colorado think the most likely reason is that there simply aren’t enough lynx to establish a population. Lynx once occupied much of the Colorado high country, but the population dwindled in the early part of the 20th century. The last lynx was illegally trapped near Vail in 1973. While there have been unconfirmed reports since then, there is no direct evidence that lynx survived in the wild.

The DOW began its reintroduction program in 1999 when 41 lynx were released into the South San Juan Mountains. The following year, 55 more lynx from Canada and Alaska were released in the same area.

In addition to re-establishing the population, the DOW is also learning much about lynx behavior, prey selection and habitat preferences to determine whether Colorado remains viable lynx habitat.

The remaining 28 lynx being held in a Division-sponsored holding facility will be released later this month in southwestern Colorado.