This month, Defenders helped score two major victories for protecting lynx in the Northern Rockies, paving the way for the recovery of this imperiled forest cat.
- On September 17, Colorado wildlife officials announced that its lynx reintroduction was indeed a success. The Denver Post reports that more than 200 lynx have been reintroduced since 1999 when the effort began. In 11 years, at least 141 kittens have been born in Colorado. No births were recorded in 2007, 50 were recorded in 2008 and 14 were reported this year. Though the number of kittens born each year is highly variable, reproductive rates appear to be exceeding mortality rates, prompting state wildlife experts to conclude that lynx should now be able to sustain their population into the future without assistance.
- On September 9, a U.S. District Court in Laramie, Wyoming also upheld the designation of some 39,000 square miles of land in six states as “critical habitat” for lynx. Defenders and other conservation groups successfully intervened on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to defend the decision, while snowmobile groups in Washington and Wyoming opposed it. Though the critical habitat designation does not include Colorado it will protect parts of Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Minnesota and Maine—a combined area equal in size to the State of Indiana.
Lynx recovery in Colorado is the most significant advancement to conserve the species since it was listed as threatened in 2000.
How Defenders Helped
Defenders’ meso-carnivore expert Dave Gaillard was a key player in both the Colorado reintroduction and supporting the Service’s habitat designation.
“Lynx recovery in Colorado is the most significant advancement to conserve the species since it was listed as threatened in 2000,” said Gaillard. “Not only does Colorado provide important new habitat for lynx today, but this may be one of the most important refuges from the impacts of global warming in the future.”
Lynx, in particular, depend on snowy, forested environments where they can hunt small animals, including their favorite prey, snowshoe hares. Lynx have massive paws that prevent the animal from sinking into deep snow, giving it a competitive advantage against bobcats and coyotes when looking for food in the winter.
Once spread across the Rocky Mountains, lynx today survive in just a few remote areas in a fraction of their former range. Prior to reintroduction, the last lynx disappeared from Colorado in the 1970s due to habitat loss from new development, as well as poisoning and trapping. The fact that there are now hundreds of lynx in Colorado is a major success, but the long-term recovery of the species is not yet secure. Climate change poses a serious threat to these alpine carnivores that rely on deep snow and mixed forests. Changing patterns of snowfall and altered forest dynamics could have severe impacts on lynx habitat in the future, making it even more important to preserve the viable populations that remain.
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