Habitat occupancy assessment to help monitor status of population
A lynx in the wilds of Colorado. Photo courtesy Tanya Shenk, Colorado Division of Wildlife.
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists say they’re close to finalizing a plan to monitor the state’s lynx population by assessing habitat occupancy. If successful, the strategy would enable researchers to determine whether the population of endangered wild cats is sustaining itself over time.
The habitat occupancy model was tested in a pilot program in core lynx habitat in the San Juans a couple of years ago, showing that about 50 to 60 percent of the available lynx habitat is occupied. Now the biologists are trying to figure out if they can use the same method to keep tabs on lynx across the entire state.
Lynx have been listed as a threatened species since 2000, with a population in New Mexico currently under consideration for listing as a candidate species. Colorado launched a restoration program in 1999, transplanting more than 200 lynx from Canada and Alaska to the San Juans.
The reintroduction effort was declared a success about two years ago, after 10 years of intensive monitoring, with on-the ground visits to lynx dens, as well as tracking via airplanes and satellites. The tracking shows that the population has spread northward, with resident, breeding lynx up through the Collegiate Range and even into Summit County, with pockets of populations north of I-70.
In a draft report on the pilot study, biologists said it’s not feasible to accurately estimate population numbers, but assessing habitat use and occupancy can help determine whether the population is stable, growing or declining — and might also show trends in habitat use, for example in response to changing forest conditions. Colorado Parks and Wildlife lynx research is online here. Continue reading
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