Dontje Hildebrand, a resident of both Durango and Ouray, was driving south on U.S. Highway 550 over Molas Pass when right there in the middle of the road was a rare sight – not one, but two lynx.
Hildebrand happened upon one of the most elusive animals in North America just after 7 a.m. Dec. 15. He said the pair was walking in the middle of the road, so he slowed the vehicle, rolled his window down and took a couple of photos.
“The juvenile was just running all around, but the mother just kept walking and wouldn’t break her stride or even look at me,” Hildebrand said. “I’m sure that will never happen again.”
Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said although spotting a lynx is rare, the division does receive reports of sightings between Molas and Red Mountain passes with some frequency.
“Especially in wintertime because you can see them more easily,” he said.
Lynx were reintroduced into Colorado in 1999, and it took just a decade for CPW to declare the effort a success. Though it’s difficult to determine exact population, the CPW website says there’s at least 150 to 250 lynx in the state.
“It looks like lynx are doing pretty well,” Lewandowski said. “They’re finding plenty of food, which are mainly snowshoe hares in the San Juans.”
In September, a U.S. District Court ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its decision to exclude the lynx’s entire southern Rocky Mountain Range, which included Southwest Colorado, from designation as a critical habitat.
Two years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 38,000 acres as critical habitat for lynx, but did not include the “Rocky Mountain range” from south-central Wyoming through Colorado and into north-central New Mexico.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now must go back and reconsider those areas, which would provide increased protection for the lynx.