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for people who care about the West

The return of Colorado's missing lynx

Cat’s saga highlights the challenges wandering wildlife face in a growing West


Over the past decade, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has released 218 radio-collared Canada lynx in a $500,000-per-year effort to re-establish the state's population. The rare, tuft-eared cats have spread through Colorado's high-altitude conifer forests, and even to other states, settling primarily within the original release area in the San Juan Mountains, as well as on the slopes of the Sawatch and Elk mountains to the northeast (see orange areas on map). But adjusting to life in one of the most heavily populated states in their range hasn't been easy for the wide ranging newcomers. As of last August, 82 had died in Colorado, and 30 had died in other states. People were the leading cause, thanks to vehicle collisions and gunshots (see map). The cats have also stopped reproducing, and no one is quite sure why.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lynx as threatened in 2000, but declined last February to designate critical habitat for it in Colorado. Now, the cat's primary protection in the Southern Rockies is a new Forest Service plan designed to promote lynx recovery and soften, though not eliminate, the impacts of activities like logging, mineral development and recreation on 7.5 million acres of habitat. In December, several environmental groups appealed the plan, claiming it falls short at a time when the southern lynx population is especially fragile. The map highlights some of the challenges the cats face: (click on the image twice to see a large, readable version of the map)