Monday, October 23, 2006

Colorado lynx reintroduction subject of talk

Published: Monday October 23, 2006

Watching a newly released lynx bound through the snow, huge tracks in its wake, is a thrill not soon matched.

So says Mark Rickman, a local anesthesiologist and a board member of the carnivore-protection group Sinapu, who was invited to watch the release of four lynx in April in the San Juan Mountains. Colorado Division of Wildlife invited about 70 people who'd been involved in reintroduction programs over the years.

"It was really something," Rickman says. "It was awesome."

Rickman will talk about the lynx release and the biology and politics behind lynx reintroduction at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mountain Park Environmental Center in Beulah.

With this year's release completed, a total of 218 lynx have been released into the Colorado mountains since 1999, according to an article Rickman wrote for Sinapu's Wild Again! newsletter. DOW biologists estimate there are 150-200 lynx in Colorado, 93 of which have radio collars to help track them. Over the past three years, 105 kittens were born Ñ 50 of them in 2005.

"Natural reproduction is beginning to offset natural and accidental mortality," Rickman writes. "For the first time, female lynx born in Colorado are now old enough to breed."

The largest core lynx population is in the San Juans, and a second core group lives in the central Colorado mountains in an area roughly bordered by Buena Vista, Leadville, Vail and Aspen. The lynx moved to this area from their release sites in the San Juans in Southern Colorado.

Rickman said in a phone interview that the cats are capable of going long distances but typically stay pretty close.

More releases are planned in 2007 and 2008.

Rickman says the biology is the easy part of reintroduction. What's more difficult is the politics surrounding the issue.

"If there is a proper prey base, things will work out. The lynx is fine in Colorado, but the minute it steps into New Mexico in some places, it can be shot. Our willingness to coexist with predators will determine how well it will be tolerated."

People also must be willing to leave enough land undeveloped to allow adequate habitat for the animals, he says.

The lynx has fared better politically than the gray wolf, the reintroduction of which has generated lots of controversy.

"I don't think they (lynx) are perceived as a threat," Rickman says. "People have a born like or dislike of wolves; maybe it comes from their European ancestors. It doesn't sit with other carnivores like the lynx."

Lynx also are less likely to bring down livestock Ñ their primary prey is the snowshoe hare Ñ though lynx have killed a couple of sheep in Arizona and the rancher was reimbursed for them, Rickman says.

Rickman and his wife, Carol, have spent many hours observing gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park, where the wolves were reintroduced starting in 1995. They've shared their observations with a wolf biologist who's studying the success of the park's reintroduction program.

Rickman's talk is free and open to the public, though donations are appreciated. Call 485-4444 for more information.

Mountain Park Environmental Center is located in Pueblo Mountain Park in Beulah.

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