Tracking will help pinpoint movement patterns, habitat use
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — U.S. Forest Service biologists this month retrieved two of three radio collars from lynx that have been roaming the Vail Pass area and beyond. Data from the collars will help researchers begin to understand how lynx use habitat in Colorado.
In a complementary element of the study, snowmobilers and cross-country skiers last winter voluntarily carried electronic beacons tracking their movements in the Vail Pass area. Comparing data from the lynx collars with the information from those tracking beacons may help illustrate what lynx do in response to human activities.
The Forest Service researchers collared the wild cats last winter to closely track their movements in a study area that extended from Summit County almost all the way to Minturn. Researcher Liz Roberts said she is still waiting to get the third collar, which was also programmed to automatically fall off this month.
This year the researchers hope to capture as many as five or six lynx in the region to have a better sample size. The plan is to try and collar the animals earlier in the winter. That way the data might show if the cats change their movement patterns when crosscounty skiing and snowmobiling begin in the study area.
Last winter’s study was essentially pilot project, so the data won’t provide definitive answers. Roberts said she hopes to continue the study for three years.
Since a state reintroduction effort started in 1999, some lynx have established home ranges on the White River National Forest. The Colorado Division of Wildlife recently reported that kittens were born in Summit County in two separate dens. Roberts said the Forest Service knew there was good lynx habitat in this area. As the cats reproduced and spread from the release area in the San Juans, it was probably inevitable that they would eventually find a nook in Summit County. There have been resident lynx in the area for a while, and more newcomers are moving into the area. biologists said.
Doing the study in the winter helps determine the movement patterns of those resident lynx, as contrasted to more transient males who tend to wander through the area in the summer as part of more wide-ranging movements on a landscape level.
One purpose of the Forest Service lynx study is to help improve management in the Vail Pass area, where hundreds of cross-country skiers and snowmobilers share a dense network of trails.
If the biologists can pinpoint lynx movement, especially as it relates to human activity, it could help provide some good information on trail management, Roberts said in a previous interview, emphasizing that the Forest Service is not looking to shut trails or recreation at Vail Pass.
The study also has a broader purpose of helping understand how lynx are responding to environmental changes.
“We’re looking at movement patterns, especially with the bark beetle,” Roberts said, explaining that the agency wants to know how the wide swaths of beetle-killed forest may affect lynx now and in the future. Lodgepole isn’t the best habitat to begin with, but dead or alive, it does provide cover for the cats. But it doesn’t provide a lot of food for snowshoe hares, who rely on nibbling at low-hanging branches in the winter time.
For now, researchers can’t say how the pine beetle epidemic will affect lynx in the short-term. The cats prefer higher-elevation spruce-fir forests in any case, but the montane lodgepole zone is such a large part of the forest landscape that it has to be considered in any study of lynx ecology.
Filed under: biodiversity, Environment, Summit County Colorado, wildlife Tagged: | endangered species, Environment, lynx, Summit County News, United States Forest Service, White River National Forest, wildlife