Four More Canada Lynx Released in Colorado

By JUDITH KOHLER, Associated Press Writer

CREEDE, Colo. - The audience of about 30 people watching four Canada lynx dash from their metal carriers and scamper through knee-deep snow on the edge of the Weminuche wilderness Tuesday included several federal scientists and officials.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife, which has released about 190 of the endangered cats since 1999, invited members of a national steering committee working on rebuilding the populations of lynx and wolverines. The scientists' consensus on the division's efforts to restore the cat to Colorado was a big thumbs up

"Colorado ought to be commended for sticking with it," said Kathy McAllister, deputy regional forester with the U.S. Forest Service in Missoula, Mont.

McAllister, head of the national steering committee, was referring to the program's rocky start in Colorado when four of the first lynx released in the rugged San Juan Mountains starved to death. State scientists quickly changed their procedures and held the lynx in pens for a few weeks instead of immediately letting them go.

Six years later, biologists insist the program is still a work in progress, but acknowledge the progress.

"It feels good," Rick Kahn, the division's lynx team leader, said after the four lynx disappeared into the woods. "The first release was grim. It was so well publicized."

The biologists decided to keep the transplanted lynx in pens at a remote wildlife rehabilitation center in the San Luis Valley for a few weeks so the cats could add a few pounds, get acclimated and wait until early spring, when more prey is out.

About two years ago, the program marked a major milestone: the cats began reproducing. Kahn said the next big step will be when Colorado-born lynx begin having their own kittens.

Tom Burke of Grand Junction, a member of the state Wildlife Commission, lifted the door to one of the metal containers to free a lynx. It was the third time he helped with a release.

"But it's the first time I got to open the door with my 6-year-old granddaughter," Burke said.

Noa Banghart of Lafayette snuggled next to her grandfather as he praised the work of the division and financial support from such organizations as Great Outdoors Colorado and the Colorado Wildlife Heritage Foundation.

Lynx restoration has cost at least $3 million so far. Eight more cats will be let go this spring in what is expected to be the last of large yearly releases. A dozen or so lynx can be brought in annually if biologists think more are needed to build a self-sustaining population.

The long-haired, tuft-eared cats, which are on the federal endangered species list, disappeared from Colorado by the early 1970s because of trapping, poisoning and loss of habitat. Colorado was at the southernmost tip of the cat's historic range.

Biologists believe up to 105 of the animals are still alive. Others have died or roamed out of the research area into Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nebraska and as far north as Montana. Most of the wandering animals have returned to Colorado.

Biologists are trying to capture and put radio collars on as many of the young lynx as possible so they can be monitored. They also want to put new collars on cats whose transmitters have stopped working. ___

On the Net: http://wildlife.state.co.us/species_cons/lynx.asp

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