Humans and lynx studied on Vail Pass |

Humans and lynx studied on Vail Pass

Bob Berwyn
** FILE ** A Canada lynx heads into the Rio Grande National Forest after being released with three other lynx Tuesday, April 19, 2005, near Creede, Colo. Colorado wildlife officials told members of the state legislature's Joint Agriculture Committee that the state is doing all it can to ensure that the endangered animals survive after being reintroduced into the mountains over the past six years. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

SUMMIT COUNTY – With Canada lynx returning to the surrounding White River National Forest in ever-greater numbers, local land managers continue to grapple with the question of how best to ensure the area is a healthy place for cats to live.

As part of that effort, the Forest Service is in the middle of a study measuring the “recreation capacity” of the Vail Pass recreation area, where up to 25,000 people hike, snowshoe, ski and snowmobile. The far-ranging predators can easily wander several hundred miles from their home territory as they look for new areas of good habitat, and they appear to be traveling across Vail pass more frequently.”It’s right in the middle of some important lynx habitat,” Forest Service planner Dave VanNorman said, describing the patchy spruce and fir forest around the pass that provides cover and prime areas to hunt for snowshoe hares and other small mammals.

This winter, the Forest Service is trying to determine how much use the Vail Pass area gets at night, VanNorman said, explaining that rangers will install automated counters in a few locations around the pass to get some solid numbers. The Fish and Wildlife Service wants to see those numbers as part of its evaluation of Forest Service management plans for the Vail Pass area, VanNorman said.VanNorman said the data will also be used by rangers trying to protect and enhance the quality of the recreational experience at the popular winter play area.Meanwhile, on the eastern side of Summit County, federal and state wildlife biologists identified Jones Gulch as a critical lynx path through heavily developed Summit County.

Tracking data from the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s lynx program shows that some lynx have used Jones Gulch during the past few years, although biologists are still not sure exactly how important the drainage east of Keystone Ski Area actually is.Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism