Monday, December 14, 2009

Colorado: Lynx habitat threatened by snowmobilers on Vail Pass

December 14, 7:16 AM Vail Environmental News Examiner Kelly Enright

Extreme winter weather atop Vail Pass creates a rugged environment that seems of little use to humans or wildlife. But within the 50,000-acre tract of the White River National Forest, known as the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area, snowmobilers and Canadian lynx compete for habitat.

In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Canadian lynx on their threatened species list. Lynx were already extinct in Colorado at that time; the last recorded sighting was in 1973. Between 1999 and 2005, the Colorado Division of Wildlife reintroduced some 200 lynx from Canada and Alaska. As the species recovers in the state, it is essential they have new spaces in which their population can grow, find resources and breed safely.

Meanwhile, snowmobiles rumble through their growing habitat. Although the National Forest Service limits the number of snowmobile outfitters on the pass, and the frequency of their trips, they do not limit individual snowmobiler use. The Forest Service is currently studying the effects of snowmobiles on lynx habitat and their main prey, snowshoe hare, while the state Department of Wildlife has radio-collared numerous lynx to monitor their movements throughout the Colorado mountains.

The White River National Forest sprawls over most of Colorado and balances the needs (and desires) of industry, recreation, and wildlife. Lynx, however, can not distinguish recreational areas from wilderness areas, created before their reintroduction. As wildlife officials study their movements and populations, they renew their commitment to keeping these wild cats in Colorado.

Have you seen a lynx? Help the Colorado Division of Wildlife study their movements:


Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at

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