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Species reintroduction has become a hotly debated topic, especially in the states experiencing actual reintroduction efforts. The reintroduction of the lynx into Colorado appeals to many who would like to return the area to it's pristine, pre-developed state. However, the actual costs, both financial and emotional, make this program impractical and illogical.
In 1979, researchers decided to investigate the number of lynx still remaining in Colorado (Lynx release). What they came up with wasn't what they had hoped for. After many months of research, the researchers had only found twelve sets of tracks maybe belonging to a lynx (Bryan and Khan). Because of this, Colorado decided to place the lynx on its endangered species list (Wildlife). In an effort to keep the lynx in Colorado, the Colorado Division of Wildlife decided to reintroduce the lynx to parts of central and southern Colorado. The mountains of the San Juan Range were identified as ideal habitat because of the snowy slopes, dark timber and snow shoe hares. Approximately 4,000 square miles stretching from just north of the New Mexico border to Monarch Pass were listed as the potential release areas. Before the first release was planned, Division of Wildlife field studies were conducted in 1998 to see if there were enough snowshoe hares to sustain the lynx. Terrestrial biologist Rick Kann explained, "We recognize that the food source is a concern, and our studies found that the number of snowshoe hares is equivalent to the low end of the snowshoe hare population cycle in its northern range, and that is sufficient to sustain the lynx." (Kann).
The first lynx were finally released in Creede, in February, 1999. (Lynx Release). Each one wore a dual VHF/satellite radio that allowed them to be monitored for movement and mortality. However, within just 2 weeks of their release, four of the eleven lynx had died of starvation (Range). Their deaths may have been unintentional, but hardly accidental. From the time the lynx were first released in 1999, up to the latest release in 2003, approximately 46, of the 129 released lynx, have died from starvation. (Shenk). Twenty-five died in 1999, 20 in 2000, and thus far, one death has been reported in 2003 (Shenk).
Enthusiasts for the lynx reintroduction feel that these losses are acceptable. Nina Fascione, of Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, says, "Our position is very firm that it's a tragedy when an animal gets killed.
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In other words, proponents find it acceptable to kill one of every two animals transplanted. But, these were healthy adult cats thriving in their own environment. Parts of Alaska and Canada are loaded with lynx. These areas have a substantial amount of food and undeveloped space for the cats to remain there. When they are captured and dropped off in a place that is unfit for them to survive, its basically murder. The survival ratio of these cats is not one to be proud of. If one out of every two teenage drivers were going to die out on the open road, would people be okay with that? Or if one out of every two soldiers that we sent off to war were never going to return home, would people just accept that? People shouldn't treat the lives of these cats any differently than they do the lives of a human being. Do people not realize that starving to death, still feels the same for both? No matter how you look at this, its terrible for us to keep taking these animals out of their home land and slowly killing them, one by one. Supporters of the lynx reintroduction believe that all species in the ecosystem would greatly benefit from the lynx being brought back in. Nina Fascione of Defenders of Wildlife in Washington said, "Ecosystems need all their components. Its about restoring what we should have gotten from our forefathers and managing it for future generations" (Lloyd). However, back when our forefathers were here, there were no super highways, giant ski resorts, or million dollar log homes in prime lynx habitat. When our forefathers first settled here, they were able coexist with the lynx because there were so few people. The lynx were pushed out of Colorado because of the development that destroyed their natural habitat. So to successfully bring the lynx back, are we going to have to shut down the highways, ski resorts and move people out of their homes, so the land is returned into what was given to us by our forefathers? People don't realize the changes that would need to be made and the impact it would have on everybody, for the lynx to be back and thriving in Colorado. For those people who think it would be cute to have a "cuddly" wild animal brought back in and returned to a serene little meadow, well, chances are your house is resting where that meadow once stood and you're part of the reason that the lynx is unable to survive here, due to lack of habitat.
To date, the cost of this program has been a whopping 1.4 million dollars (Lloyd). That means that Colorado has thus far spent over $10,000 on each lynx (Range). This seems like quite a price to pay for something that may not even survive to see the next year. In addition to the money we've spent to bring these lynx in, if the cats did happen to survive, there could be an even bigger price. The limited success of the program almost certainly means that enough lynx will survive to become a viable species in Colorado. However, these small numbers also almost certainly mean the lynx will be placed on the Federal threatened or endangered species list. This listing carries with it a myriad of rules and regulations that will effect those living near an identified lynx habitat. First of all, highway expansion, including Berthoud and Wolf Creek Passes, would need to include overpasses for the lynx. Even I-70 expansions would have to be evaluated for impact on the lynx (Best, Allen). Then, most ski area expansions would most likely have to scaled back as well, in order for the lynx to have undeveloped land to thrive in. The thought of all of the money that the state of Colorado would need to put into this is almost scary. Citizens of Colorado would ultimately bear this burden.
While it would be nice to see one of Colorado's indigenous species thrive in the state, this serves as a harsh reminder that nature is not always nurturing and mankind is not always kind; both can be cruel , unforgiving and punishing.
Best, Allen "Lynx reintroduction links unexpected allies" High Country News 20 Oct
Best, Allen "Return of the Lynx." Colorado Central Magazine 21 Oct
Grant, Eric "Caught in Crossfire" Range 1999, Nov 2, 2003
Kahn, Rick. "Current Status of Lynx in Colorado." Colorado Department of Natural Resources Jan. 28, 1998. Nov 1, 2003
Lloyd, Jillian "Did Lynx Reintroduction Fail?" Science Moniter 19 Oct
"Lynx Release Revised." The Holland Sentinel Online May 11, 1999. Oct 22, 2003
Shenk, Tanya "Colorado's Lynx" Species Conservation 20 Oct