Forest Service to study lynx-human interactions in the Vail Pass rec area |

Forest Service to study lynx-human interactions in the Vail Pass rec area

Julie Sutor
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. – The U.S. Forest Service will conduct a new study on the Canada lynx this winter, but this time the humans will wear the collars – or GPS units, anyway.

Forest Service researchers are initiating a wildlife study to determine how lynx-use patterns and human winter-recreation use patterns might overlap in the Vail Pass area, and how lynx respond to winter-recreation activity. The Forest Service will ask people recreating at Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area to assist with the research project by wearing GPS units while using the area.

The Canada lynx is listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 states, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife estimates that no lynx could be found in the state after 1973. The large, gray cats were reintroduced to Colorado in 1999, and by 2005, more than 200 of the animals had been released, followed by a number of kitten litters.

“The Colorado Division of Wildlife is pleased with the overall success of the reintroduction program,” said Tanya Shenk, a DOW research biologist. “Most of the goals have been accomplished. However, it is too early to determine if the population will persist for the long term.”

To date, Division of Wildlife researchers have focused on understanding lynx habitat use at a broader landscape scale across Colorado. Lynx are generally found in high-elevation spruce and fir forests. They tend to prefer deep, soft snow where they hunt snowshoe hare, their primary winter food source. The cats’ huge hind feet help them move across heavy snow.

“Lynx are very rare and secretive,” said Dr. John Squires, wildlife biologist with the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Mont. “And we don’t understand how they respond to winter recreation.”

The Forest Service and its partners, including the Division of Wildlife, want to get a better understanding of how many lynx use the Vail Pass area and whether these animals are changing their behavior in response to human recreational use of the habitat.

On selected days, both midweek and on the weekends, Forest Service employees will contact cross country skiers and snowmobilers to ask if they would be willing to carry a GPS unit while traveling in the Vail Pass area. The GPS units will record their routes. Researchers will download the data as a map and compare them with similar data collected from GPS units on collared lynx.

In addition, trail counters will be randomly placed on travel routes throughout the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area this winter. Forest Service personnel will conduct lynx track surveys in the study area as well.

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