Creating a bountiful lynx buffet
ASPEN ” Where there are bunnies in Colorado’s mountains, there are often lynx, so the U.S. Forest Service and Aspen Skiing Co. are teaming on a project to make part of Burnt Mountain more like a buffet table for both animals.
A 43-acre stand of mostly mature spruce and fir trees will be thinned out, and the soil will be disturbed to spur growth of new trees. Snowshoe hares depend largely on conifer needles for food in the winter, so the idea is to provide them with more to eat, said Kelly Colfer, a principal owner of Western Bionomics LLC, a Aspen Skiing Co. consultant.
By improving snowshoe hare habitat, the Skico and Forest Service hope to make the area more inviting to lynx, a reclusive predator reintroduced to the state starting in 1999.
“Lynx rely heavily on snowshoe hares as prey; consequently, good snowshoe hare habitat translates to good lynx forage habitat,” Colfer wrote in a description of the project.
Jim Stark, winter sports administrator in the Forest Service’s Aspen district, said the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s tracking of lynx via radio collars shows they have passed through the part of Burnt Mountain where the habitat will be enhanced.
The lynx population in Colorado is holding at about 200, according to the wildlife division. Most of the animals are in the southern mountains, but they have been tracked to the Independence Pass area and south of Aspen as well as around Vail Pass.
The stand of spruce and fir trees targeted for the local project is on the far east edge of the Snowmass Ski Area permit boundary, between Snowmass and West Buttermilk.
Although the site is within the ski area permit boundary, the Skico doesn’t plan to use it because it is relatively flat. Stark said he rarely has seen ski or snowboard tracks leading on that part of Burnt Mountain because it would require walking out.
So a small bulldozer will head to the site from Snowmass in late August or early September. A crew will chop down some of the larger trees, and the bulldozer will topple others to ensure more sunlight penetrates the canopy.
It won’t be a clear-cut, officials said. A brush rake attached to the bulldozer’s blade will uproot and clear vegetation from the ground to improve regeneration of conifer seeds.
Aspen Skiing Co. was obligated to undertake a project that enhances lynx winter forage habitat under conditions of federal approval for various other projects at Snowmass.
Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado