A U.S. District Court has ordered U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its decision to exclude the Canada lynx’s entire southern Rocky Mountain range — which includes Southwest Colorado — from designation as critical habitat.
Lynx were re-introduced into southwest Colorado in the late 1990s and have since survived in the higher mountain zones, from Lizard Head Pass to Silverton, Wolf Creek to Creede.
In 2014, Fish and Wildlife designated 38,000 acres of critical habitat for the threatened lynx, but chose to exclude the lynx’s southern Rocky Mountain range, from south-central Wyoming through Colorado and into north-central New Mexico.
Now according to the court order, they must go back and re-examine those areas for potential critical habitat designation, which would increase protection.
“This decision gives the lynx a fighting chance to not only survive – but recover – in the southern Rockies,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “We’re hopeful this decision will mark a turning point for lynx conservation in the heart of southern Rockies lynx habitat.”
He said lynx habitat is under threat across the contiguous U.S. from climate change, road building, motorized recreation and logging. Fish and Wildlife’s latest designation decreased existing protections by 2,593 square miles compared with a 2013 plan.
Bishop said Fish and Wildlife had excluded much of the cat’s historical and currently occupied, last best habitat in the southern Rockies and other areas from protection.
The court found Fish and Wildlife failed to follow the science showing that lynx are successfully reproducing in Colorado.
“With increasing threats from climate change and development, it’s long past time lynx receive every possible protection, including safeguards for the rare cat’s southern Rockies habitat,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to stop playing politics and start meeting its obligations to recover our most imperiled species, including lynx.”
Matt Thorpe, wildlife officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said there have been reports of lynx in the Lizard Head Pass area that likely migrated from the Silverton area.
“That habitat is all connected, so it’s not surprising they would be moving over to the Lizard Head area,” he said.
Parks and Wildlife has installed remote cameras, in cooperation with the San Juan National Forest, to try and record where lynx are, Thorpe said. The cameras are set up from Lizard Head Pass to Pagosa Springs and in the Rio Grande National Forest.
“We are trying to document how far they have dispersed since being re-introduced,” Thorpe said.
Canada lynx are distinguished by their large, snowshoe-like paws that are ideal for hunting in deep snow. Their favorite food are showshoe hares.
The more common bobcat is sometimes mistaken for a lynx, which has larger paws, longer legs, a grayer coat and a black-tipped tail. Bobcats have more spots. Lynx are protected under the Endangered Species Act.