Rocky Mountain hut users can help track lynx
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY ” They are large, furry and very elusive, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife is enlisting the help of backcountry hut users and skiers tracking them down.
The Division of Wildlife and the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association want hut users to record lynx tracks, so wildlife officials have a better idea of the endangered cats are.
Each of the 10th Mountain Division’s 30 backcountry huts will have a lynx kit that explains how to identify the tracks and forms for recording the sightings, said Division of Wildlife Spokesman Joe Lewandowski.
Lynx are typically about 3-feet long with a grayish orange coat. They are distinguished by very large tufts of fur by their ears.
The cats leave prints that look like a softball has been dropped in the snow, Lewandowski said.
“They can run across the deep snow to chase down their prey,” he said. “They have big, furry feet, so they’re pretty distinctive.”
Lynx were nearly extinct in Colorado until a reintroduction program released 218 of the cats in the state in 1999.
Now there are about 150 lynx in Colorado, and they are listed as “endangered” by the state and “threatened” by the federal government, Lewandowski said.
The released cats wear radio collars that biologists track by satellite and airplane, but new kittens do not have collars, and some of the collars have been lost or damaged. That is where backcountry users come in.
“This is an excellent way for us to get a more complete picture of lynx distribution in Colorado. The more people we have looking for lynx tracks the better picture we will have,” said Division of Wildlife lynx biologist Tanya Shenk.
If enough people are looking, there are bound to be sightings, said Lewandowski, and that will allow researchers to look in certain areas or know if there are particular concentrations of lynx.
No new kittens were found last spring, and researchers think it has to do with dwindling numbers of snowshoe hares, the main prey of lynx.
“We track them so closely because if we didn’t know, we would have no idea the success of the reintroduction program,” he said.
This is the second winter the hut system has joined the tracking effort. Lynx typically live above 9,000, where the huts also are.
“I think this collaborative effort demonstrates the important and valuable connection between quality backcountry recreation and good stewardship of the forest,” said Ben Dodge, 10th Mountain executive director.
It is not only hut users that researchers are recruiting. Many people in the Vail area snowshoe, hike, ski or bike in the backcountry, and they can help spot lynx, too, Lewandowski said.
– Learn about lynx tracking and how to report sightings at: http://wildlife.state.co.us under “wildlife species” and then under “lynx”.
– Check out the hut system at: http://www.huts.org
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.