Several hundred Canada lynx living in Southwest Colorado won't have a nationally recognized critical habitat under a decision Tuesday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but local authorities are confident the cats will continue to thrive nonetheless.
The agency's final critical habitat designation for the lynx expands the protected habitat from 1,841 square miles to about 39,000 in Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington, but does not include any protection in the southern Rocky Mountains.
In its published rule, the agency wrote, "We recognize that this reintroduction has been an effort to recover the lynx in Colorado; however, the Southern Rockies contain marginal habitat, are on the southern limit of the species' range, and have not been shown to support a breeding population of lynx. Therefore, we find that habitat in Colorado is not essential to the conservation of species."
The decision is not popular among some Colorado conservation organizations, including Colorado Wild and The Center for Native Ecosystems, which believe the ruling could undo several years' worth of
lynx-reintroduction efforts in the state. More than 200 lynxes have been released into the wild in Colorado since 1999 and more than 100 kittens have since been born. An adult lynx wearing a Division of Wildlife collar and tag was sighted and photographed in January by a Durango couple off East Animas Road (County Road 250).The reintroduction of lynx 10 years ago was initiated by the Colorado DOW because the state was a historical habitat, but the program was not sponsored by the federal agency.
Joe Lewandowski, a spokes-man for the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Durango, said Wed-nesday that the federal decision won't have an adverse effect on the lynx in Colorado because much of the high-altitude habitat in the San Juan and Rio Grande national forests - between 7,000 feet and the timberline - is already under federal protection via the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.
"It wasn't a surprise that the Fish and Wildlife Service didn't include Colorado, and the critical-habitat decision doesn't change what the DOW is doing. ... And there's not a lot of good habitat on private land in this area anyway," Lewandowski said.
He said the states that were included in the federal decision are continuously connected to the cats' northern migration routes, whereas Colorado, and especially the southern regions, are more isolated.
"There are groups who think it should be declared critical, but we're not getting into that fight because we manage the lynx on the ground, and hopefully what we have going here will work for the cats," Lewandowski said.
The Canada lynx is protected under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species throughout its range in 14 states, including Colorado. Critical habitat is a term within the federal act that identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management or protection or considerations.