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Colorado: Will the lynx survive?

A lynx in the wild counry of Colorado. PHOTO COURTESY COLORADO DIVISION OF PARKS AND WILDLIFE.TANYA SHENK.

State wildlife agency testing new method for monitoring wild carnivore populations on a landscape scale

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — If you’ve been waiting for the 2011 spring lynx kitten count from the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, don’t hold your breath. Instead if visiting individual dens to collar and count lynx, state biologists are shifting gears, working to determine whether the wild cats can hold their own in Colorado in the long run with an unprecedented habitat occupancy model.

Intensive monitoring during the first 10 years of the state lynx recovery program included annual visits to lynx dens, as well as aerial and satellite monitoring. The research yielded detailed information about lynx behavior and reproduction, including annual reports that specified the number of new kittens as a way of measuring reproductive success. The 2009-2010 annual lynx program report is online here.

But this year, state biologists are switching to a new mode of tracking the rare mountain wild cats. Using a network of motion-activated cameras, snow tracking and genetic sampling, the researchers hope to determine where the cats are living, eating and sleeping, and how well they are filling all the available habitat in the state. An overall assessment of the Colorado lynx recovery program is online here.

The data from those sources will help document the distribution and persistence of lynx across the landscape, said biologist Tanya Shenk, who led the Colorado recovery effort in its first 10 years and now works for the National Park Service as a climate change and landscape ecologist. Shenk said there has been a general move by wildlife and conservation biologists to move away from invasive techniques that put a lot of stress on individual animals. The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife lynx program information is online here. Continue reading

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