There is a little-known conservation success story in Colorado that deserves celebration – it is about the return of the Canadian lynx to Colorado’s mountains. While it is called a Canadian lynx, the feline is native to the Rocky Mountains, ranging from Canada south into Colorado. Like so many other animals, though, the lynx population in the western US declined steadily beginning in the 1800s as a result of trapping, poisoning, and habitat loss. In the 1900s, sightings of the elusive animal grew increasingly rare. In 1973, the last known lynx in Colorado was illegally trapped and killed near Vail.
But in the early ‘90s, the folks at the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW, now called Colorado Parks and Wildlife – CPW) began to consider reintroducing the lynx to the state. They understood that humans were responsible for their extirpation (local extinction) and realized that we should also be responsible for bringing them back. It was a long process that included habitat studies, prey studies, drafting conservation strategies, locating Canadian and Alaskan trappers, arranging transportation, and more. In addition, the DOW had to deal with public relations. A lot of folks weren’t happy with the reintroduction. They had meetings with ranchers, the ski industry, and animal rights activists. But at last, in early 1999, the first five lynx arrived at the Frisco Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Del Norte and were prepared for release near Creede on February 3, 1999. All were fitted with trackers.
The first several years of the program were difficult, with high lynx mortality. But those dedicated to reintroduction studied and learned and made new plans. More lynx were brought to the state. And finally, in 2003, the first lynx kittens were born in Colorado in decades. There were ups and downs with the program, but by 2006 the program was declared a success. The lynx had established themselves in their new home and reproduction exceeded mortality. For a lucky few, there are lynx sightings in the mountains now and the lynx continue to thrive in their natural range.