Colorado Pushes Lynx Habitat Rule Changes
DENVER Citing the success of a six-year, $2.5 million state program to transplant the endangered lynx from Canada, state officials want the federal government to lift land use restrictions designed to protect the cat's habitat.
But they aren't optimistic anything will happen soon, despite the fact that scores of lynx are prowling across the western part of the state and have roamed into Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.
"There is still no guarantee that we will get out from under the Endangered Species Act," Rick Kahn of the state wildlife division told the Legislature on Wednesday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the lynx a threatened species in the lower 48 states in 2000. It is considered endangered in Colorado, a more serious category.
Because of the designation, development is limited in areas where the cat lives. Rules vary by location, but restrictions include logging, snowmobiling, new roads and construction of ski area lodging.
Kahn said he hopes to meet with federal officials this year to begin the process of easing the restrictions, but state officials don't know how many lynx are needed before that can happen.
At least 80 of the approximately 160 lynx brought from Canada since 1999 have survived, Kahn told the House Agriculture Committee. Transplanted lynx also gave birth to 52 kittens in 2003 and 2004, although not all survived.
Rep. John Penry, a Republican from Grand Junction in western Colorado, said the state began reintroducing lynx in hopes of preventing federal intervention, but "we're getting that intervention anyway."
Lynx numbers must improve nationwide before the restrictions can be lifted, said Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Lori Nordstrom.
"We need to consider the population as a whole," she said. But Colorado's program will speed that process because its lynx are migrating to other states, she added.
Wendy Keefover-Ring of the Boulder-based environmental group Sinapu said the lynx program cannot be considered a success until several generations of cats are born.
"What that threshold is, no one knows," she said.
The lynx disappeared from Colorado by the 1970s due to trapping, poisoning and development. Because Colorado was at the southernmost tip of the lynx's historic range, critics questioned the wisdom of trying to restore the cats to the state.
The criticism grew louder when four of the first five lynx released starved to death, prompting immediate changes. Instead of releasing the lynx immediately, biologists kept them caged for about three weeks to fatten them up, and freed them later in the winter when prey is more available.
The leading causes of death for lynx now include plague, shootings and being hit by cars.
Source: Associated Press