Lynx sightings rise in Tenmile Range
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. ” A pair of recent lynx sightings in the Tenmile Range suggest the endangered cats may be using the area more and more, said Tom Kroening, Colorado Division of Wildlife manager for the area.
A group of skiers staying at Francie’s Cabin during an avalanche class spotted a lynx several weeks ago near the backcountry shelter. Earlier this week, some Canadian visitors observed one of the cats for several minutes on the edge of a Peak 7 trail at Breckenridge Ski Area. Both had photographic proof.
“We think it’s great there are lynx using the area,” said Breckenridge Ski Resort spokesperson Nicky DeFord. “It shows that conservation measures are working,” DeFord said, referring to Forest Service measures designed to make ski areas “permeable” to lynx movements.
At some ski areas those steps include limits on nighttime activities, and mitigation for habitat affected by ski trail development.
“It looks like we have some moving through the area. I don’t know that they are living here, but it seems that they are moving through a little more frequently,” Kroening said.
The lynx spotted Feb. 12 at Breckenridge may have been the same one that was observed at Francie’s Cabin, he said.
“It shows that area (the Tenmile Range) is important for lynx and other wildlife. It’s important to keep that habitat functional,” Kroening said. “I’m very encouraged they’re in the area. In my opinion, that’s a good thing.”
It’s not surprising to Kroening that the cats are using the forest of Summit County. The last confirmed sightings of native lynx were around Vail. The area between Summit County and Vail has often been described as providing some of the best habitat in the state.
A recent Forest Service study at Vail Pass showed intense human recreation in that area is making it more difficult for the cats to use resting and foraging habitat.
As part of its reintroduction program, the DOW is carefully monitoring the cats via radio collars that can be tracked by satellite and plane. The tracking program shows that lynx have been using the White River National Forest extensively. Most of the 218 lynx that were released in the San Juans have stayed in that general area, but the cats have established a secondary core population in the Collegiate Range around Independence Pass, east of Aspen.
The forested lands between Copper Mountain and Vail provide an avenue for lynx movement between larger chunks of good habitat. According to the DOW’s 2007 annual report, the area east of Dillon, both north and south of I-70, is identified as a third high-use area.
Exactly how the Forest Service will manage land to protect lynx is still at issue. The cats have “threatened”s status on the endangered species list. Under the Endangered Species Act, the federal government is obligated to conserve and recover listed species.
Colorado was not included in a critical habitat map proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but that decision has been challenged by conservation groups. At the same time, the Forest Service is developing a set of forest plan measures aimed at making sure the cats have room to roam.
For site-specific reviews of projects like timber harvesting, road-building or ski area expansions, the Forest Service consults with U.S. Fish and Wildlife to measure and mitigate impacts from those activities.
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