No new lynx kittens in Colorado? | AspenTimes.com
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No new lynx kittens in Colorado?

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Bob Berwyn/Summit Daily News fileColorado's lynx population has reproduced successfully in the past, as evidenced by this pair of kittens, but more recently, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has counted no new lynx for the second year in a row.
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DURANGO, Colo. ” For the second year in a row, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has come up empty in its search for lynx kittens.

Biologists briefed the Colorado Wildlife Commission on the kitten count Thursday in Durango.

Researchers believe the apparent lack of reproduction by the elusive cats over the past two years could be related to a decline in the state’s population of snowshoe hares ” the lynx’s main prey. Nonetheless, the adult population remains stable and has expanded from southwestern Colorado to various parts of the state, including the Aspen area.

“Actually, they have dispersed. We’re seeing more of a stable population up around the Independence Pass-Leadville area, Summit County and even some movement across I-70 into the Frasier/Winter Park area,” said Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for the DOW. Independence Pass is east of Aspen; the DOW has also previously documented cats in the mountains southwest of Aspen.

Lynx from Canada were released in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado beginning in 1999; six more releases followed over a period ending in 2006 ” the same year one of the cats was spotted alongside an Aspen bike path. That cat, introduced in one of the earlier releases, had migrated north to Aspen. It had suffered a leg injury however and ultimately died.

In all, the DOW released 218 of the animals and has recorded the birth of a total of 116 kittens, though no new births have been documented for two straight years.

“It sounds strange to us, but it is a natural occurrence,” Lewandowski said. “Obviously, we’d like to see reproduction. We’re disappointed, but we’re not alarmed.”

According to Lewandowski, biologists believe the cats could go through yet another year without reproducing and still not harm the state’s population. The cats have apparently adapted well to Colorado.

DOW biologists believe that, while adult lynx are finding enough food to survive ” those trapped during the winter for checkups are in good condition ” the females may not be finding enough high-quality food to sustain pregnancy.

In Canada, the population of snowshoe hares fluctuates, along with the population of lynx, according to the DOW.

“The fluctuation in the hare population is something that’s never really been studied in Colorado,” Lewandowski said.

However, the DOW is now funding a small-scale study to examine the snowshoe hare population in the Taylor Park area northeast of Gunnison. Judging by the lack of lynx reproduction during the last two years, the hare population may be down statewide, the DOW suspects.

It’s also possible some lynx have reproduced under the DOW’s radar. Many of the radio collars on the lynx that were released have ceased working and most kittens born in Colorado weren’t outfitted with the transmitters. DOW researchers keep tabs on the happenings at some lynx dens to assess whether new cats are being born.

“When we started the program we could track individual animals,” explained Rick Kahn, lead biologist for the reintroduction project, in a DOW press release. “But now lynx have established themselves over a wide area and looking at specific numbers does not provide an accurate picture of what is happening with the population. We are most encouraged by the fact that overall long-term survival of adults remains at a high level.”

During the winter, the DOW traps adult lynx to replace radio collars and to check the general health of the animals. The cats trapped during the last two winters were in good shape and the mortality rate was low, said Tanya Shenk, field research leader for the DOW’s reintroduction program.

“We know they can function fully in our environment,” Shenk said in a press release. “Fluctuation of hares and lynx is a classic biological predator-prey interaction. The natural system will usually readjust itself.”

janet@aspentimes.com


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