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Bobcats on the increase here, but lynx live further north

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By Sylvia Brockner

Ever since I wrote about seeing a bobcat several years ago, I have had a good number of reports about them and about lynx being seen in the area.

Bobcats, yes. They seem to have increased in the area or at least are being seen more frequently. Lynx? I don’t think so. The Canada lynx is a close relative of the bobcat but is a bigger animal. It was at one time known in this area but is believed to be extinct here in recent years.

Lynx fur was in great demand and pelts brought good prices. Therefore, the Colorado Division of Wildlife began a program of restocking suitable areas in Colorado with wild lynx from Canada, where they are still quite plentiful. These released animals have been doing fairly well, but I have not heard of any in the Evergreen area.

In fact, the most recent studies on lynx are being conducted along the Canadian/Montana border where they seem to wander back and forth with little regard for such human political lines. The Canada lynx is somewhat bigger than a bobcat, has webs between its toes and heavily furred feet. This makes it possible for them to live at higher altitudes and farther north where the snow is deep. Their large, webbed and furred feet make snowshoes that keep them on top of the snow. One of their main food supplies is the varying hare or snowshoe rabbit. Thus, they do well in years where snowshoe rabbits are plentiful, but since these rabbits are very cyclical and decline in drastic numbers about every 10 years, the lynx appears to decline in a similar pattern.

Both lynx and bobcats have long hind legs and short tails. The lynx has a black tip on its tail all the way around. The bobcat’s tail is black on top and light beneath. This is easily seen when the stubby four-inch tail is held upright.

At one time, it was believe that lynx only did well in heavily forested areas, but the current research is beginning to show that they need thickety places, windfalls and such places that are difficult to get into for their denning and that the destruction of forests for development is more detrimental to them than logging for timber.

The current research is being done by a team led by John Squires, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Forest Service. His work for the past 10 years is being used to determine the needs of these big ghost cats in an effort to save them and one of the last remaining areas of true wilderness along the crown of the continent.

The Nature Conservancy and the Trust of Public Land have formed a joint effort to buy 310,000 acres of land owned by the Plum Creek Timber Co. to protect this land and join it with the surrounding Forest Service lands.

The big feet of the Canada lynx are obvious and the track is about the same size as that of a mountain lion. A big male lynx may weigh about 30 pounds, but a mountain lion would weigh about 120 pounds. The lighter weight surely must help in making the lynx capable of walking on snowshoes. If the Canada lynx does well in the release sites, they may spread out into other areas but that will take time for they only have two to four young, which will not cause them to over-populate an area rapidly.

They are often referred to as ghost cats by native people, but this is just because they disappear so quickly that one is seldom sure if they have seen one or not. Foresters consider them beneficial since they eat varying hares, which in turn girdle small trees in winter. The pelts once brought a good price, but for some reason people have seldom considered them to be a good source of food. Any small cat-like creature seen locally is much more likely to be a bobcat.

Bobcats used to den on Kinney’s Peak, but when the mountain lion started denning there a few years ago, they left as did most everything else. The snow, which soon will cover the ground, makes it possible to study tracks. It is a good way to tell what kind of critters you have around your house.