Reintroduction of the Lynx Does More Harm Than Good

Reintroduction of the Lynx Does More Harm Than Good

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Reintroduction of the Lynx Does More Harm Than Good


     There I was, standing face to face with the bobtailed lynx. It was looking right at me and licking its chops with delight. It seemed as if the beast was thinking "Lunch" on this cold, gray December day, but I wasn't worried about being attacked. The reason for this was the fact that this was a domestic lynx that just happened to be on the other side of a stout metal cage, so there was no chance of the lynx getting a hold of me.

     At one time, the lynx lived all the way along the Continental Divide clear up into Canada. Now, after being gone from Colorado for 25 years, the animal has been reintroduced into the lower tip of the lynx's historic habitat, the San Juan Mountains (Rogers). So far, out of 33 lynx that are being tracked, all of them are roaming in 276 square kilometers of the southwestern portion of Colorado that runs from the New Mexico border up to the I-70 corridor and from Monarch Pass over to Taylor Mesa (Shenk). In an attempt to find out how the animals, which look like bobcats with black tufts on their ears and huge paws, act in nature, scientists are tracking them with radio collars and airplanes (Lloyd).

     Now, just a couple of years later, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is planning to release over 180 more lynx into the Colorado wilderness within the next five years. However, out of nearly 100 Canadian Lynx that have already been released so far, about half of them have died and none of them have reproduced. With the type of results that the process has received so far, the agencies involved in the reintroduction process should stop reintroducing the lynx into Colorado. Instead, they should try to find a way different way that will get results that save the species. The government agencies that are involved in reintroducing the lynx argue that it should be done in order to save an endangered species. In this argument they bring out three strong points for trying to save the lynx: every animal should have the opportunity to exist, many people feel happy when they see the animals they share the land with and all living things are part of a complex ecosystem ("Wildlife Commission . . ."). However, they aren't sure how to reintroduce the lynx so that they don't all die.

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Some officials want to release large numbers of lynx all at once, while others want a slow reintroduction to see if the animals can survive here. Rocky Smith, an experienced ecologist, says, "We want to see the lynx brought back . . ., but we don't want it done in a way that guarantees their quick demise" (Lloyd). So far, in an effort to save the species, 96 lynx have been released into Colorado's forests, but there are plans to have 250 lynx back into Colorado by the year 2015, with 100 of them coming in the next two years ("Wildlife Commision . . .").

     Although, once one looks at the facts of what has happened they realize the points used by the agencies aren't that convincing. Right now, as Bob Berwyn puts it, the lynx population is thriving in Canada and Alaska, while over a third of the transplanted cats have died. In this perspective, the lynx already has the chance to exist. Their next point is also unconvincing because Colorado's residents wouldn't be able to enjoy seeing the lynx since they like to stay away from humans (Lloyd). The last point is probably the best, but the ecosystem hasn't been hurt since the species disappeared, and reintroduction may hurt it since the lynx will have to compete with coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions for food (Byre and Kahn). Biologists also want the lynx to be reintroduced so that they can learn more about the lynx. In order to make sure the animals could survive for research, Rogers says that they first made sure the state's snowshoe-hare population could support a lynx population. Although, that's the only good news for the biologists since they are getting limited amounts of information, and the information has been restricted even more in recent months (Bergen). Some of the biologists have now said they were guessing at what the lynx needed for habitat, and as Allen Best says, many people feel the "biologists were rushing to bring in lynx without understanding what they need to survive." Furthermore, some people think that if biologists want to learn about the lynx in their natural habitat, they should study them where they already live and are familiar with the territory.

     According to environmentalists, the lynx should be reintroduced because they will help control the wildlife population. There's no doubt that it will control the squirrel population and the population of its favorite prey, the snowshoe hare. However, those are about the only animals that they will control the population of since they can't kill much when they only weigh about twenty-five pounds and hunt alone (Lloyd). Also, those are the only animals that the lynx prefer to eat. Studies have shown that when hare populations are high the lynx populations are too, and they have the same relationship when the hare populations are low (Rogers).

     The ranchers are on the other side of this heated discussion, they are worried that the lynx might attack their smaller livestock, such as sheep and calves. This isn't very likely because of the lynx's size, but according to Best, if the process of reintroduction works for the lynx, it could lead to the release of more predators that can kill livestock. There is also another more realistic cause for concern from the ranchers, the threat of the lynx reintroduction pushing them off of their summer grazing lands. This could happen before long since the reintroduced lynx are living almost entirely on national forests, and some government officials want to limit the use of that land for livestock grazing.

     Environmentalists are also arguing against reintroduction for several reasons, most of them dealing with the lack of success the program has experienced. Since their release, only a little over a third are known to definitely be alive, none of the animals have reproduced and about a third of them are outside the region where they were released. Only one out of the first five animals released is still alive, and a total of 43 out of the 96 lynx that have been released have already died, most of them from starvation and being run over on highways. There are also another eighteen lynx that are missing that could be dead, and they are definitely not in the area where they were released. Two lynx that are known to have left Colorado include one that was shot and killed in Nebraska and another that was hit by a truck in New Mexico. As for reproduction, so far there hasn't been any sign of it. Out of twenty-four females that were tracked last winter, none of them had kittens despite several of them showing breeding behavior with males that they came in contact with.

     Another argument brought up by some groups that are against reintroduction is that there is little evidence that the original lynx population ever lived as far south as the San Juan Mountains ("Lynx Reintroduction . . ."). According to Byrne, in Colorado's history there have only been eighteen confirmed records of the species living in the state, and only four of those occurred after 1935, with the southern most being near Breckenridge and the last near Vail in 1973 ("Lynx Release . . ."). Then, six years later researchers decided to conduct investigations to find more evidence of the lynx still living in Colorado, but they were only able to find a dozen sets of tracks that might have belonged to a lynx (Byrne and Kahn).

     There are also some government officials who don't want the captured Canadian Lynx to be reintroduced because nobody knows what caused the species to disappear from this area the first time. Before the animals completely disappeared, their numbers had dramatically dropped for no apparent reason. Now there are many people who feel that if we don't find why the lynx died in the first place, the reintroduced lynx could be doomed. Ted Zukoski, an attorney for the Land and Water Fund, mentioned that his clients felt "that in their rush to [reintroduce the Canadian Lynx], we'll get a program that fails and we won't even know why." An endangered-species specialist Lee Carlson, and many others, shares this same point of view and believes that we need to know why the lynx disappeared to begin with before we can release more of the animals into what could be an unsafe area (Lloyd).

     Perhaps the most convincing argument against reintroducing the lynx is that reintroducing any species is tricky, and it almost never works. Along with this, the lynx are among the hardest animals to reintroduce, and they're being released into a region that's higher in elevation, less forested, and drier than the type of habitat they're accustomed to (Rogers). To aid this part of the argument, there's a former attempt to reintroduce the lynx into New York's national forests. In this particular effort to save the lynx, most of the animals died from being hit by cars since they weren't used to being near roads. Because of this, there are many people who feel that there's no way that the species could make a successful return (Lloyd).

     Even though this species should be saved, reintroduction has proven that it's not a good way to help them. So far, they haven't faired well through this process, and scientists know they're one of the toughest animals to try to reintroduce. Even if the lynx could easily adapt to unfamiliar areas, they still would probably have a hard time surviving in Colorado, especially since humans couldn't have killed all of them when there were only 18 confirmed records of the lynx living in the state. Right now, one of the few things we do know in this argument is that all the reintroduction process is doing is taking the Canadian Lynx away from their natural habitat and releasing them into an unfamiliar area where they don't feel comfortable and aren't thriving.
 
Works Cited
 
Berwyn, Bob. "Colorado Lynx Conservation: Is it Working?" Environmental News Network Feb. 26, 2001. Dec. 7, 2002 <http://www.enn.com/news/enn-stories/2001/02/02262001/lynx_42179.asp>.
.Best, Allen. "Lynx Reintroduction Links Unexpected Allies." High Country News May 10,1999. Dec. 5, 2002 <http://www.hcn.org/servlets/hcn.Article?article_id=4976>.
Byrne, Gene and Kahn, Rick. "Current Status of Lynx in Colorado." Colorado Department of Natural Resources Jan. 28, 1998. Dec. 15, 2002 <http://www.dnr.state.co.us/cdnr_news/ wildlife/98020210128.html>.
Lloyd, Jillian. "Best Way to Save Slinky Lynx: Pounce Fast or Move Slowly?" The Christian Science Monitor Nov. 26, 1997. Dec. 7, 2002 <http://www.csmonitor.com/durable/ 1997/11/26/us/us.3.html>.
"Lynx Reintroduction Results in High Mortality." Wildlife Management Interactive Aug. 2, 2002. Dec. 5, 2002 <http://wminteractive.org/Articles/co3-19.htm>.
"Lynx Release Revised." The Holland Sentinel Online May 11, 1999. Dec. 5, 2002 <http://hollandsentinel.com/stories/031199/out_lynx.html>.
Rogers, Adam. "Lynx to the Past." Newsweek Feb. 15,1999: 58-59
Shenk, Tanya. "Colorado's Missing Lynx." Colorado Division of Wildlife Nov. 4, 2002. Dec. 15, 2002 <http://wildlife.state.co.us/T&E/lynx.asp>.
"Wildlife Commision Approves Reintroducing More Lynx." Colorado Division of Wildlife Dec. 5,2002. Dec. 5, 2002 <http://wildlife.state.co.us/t&e/index.asp>.
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