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Colorado wildlife officials reintroduce lynx; Ranchers oppose action, fearing loss of land rights


SOUTH FORK, Colo. -- After a few minutes of terrified hesitation, a lynx, a cat not seen in Colorado in more than 25 years, was reintroduced here yesterday.

The 18-pound, 3-year-old female was the first of two lynx released on private property in the Weminuche Wilderness area of the San Juan Mountains, and the first of about 50 lynx to be reintroduced this year.

"They're back," hollered Gene Byrne, a wildlife biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, as a second tuft-eared cat darted across the sunlit snow.

"Never left," another wildlife official, Bill Andree, said quietly.

Whether these elusive cats were ever really gone from Colorado has been a subject of much speculation in recent years. The Earth Liberation Front, for example, a radical animal-rights group, was so certain of the lynx's presence in Colorado that in October it claimed responsibility for a major fire at a ski resort the group believed was threatening a habitat for the animals.

The lynx released yesterday, which were brought 1,700 miles from British Columbia last week, are part of a $2 million, 5-year program by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

The reintroduction sparked a lawsuit by local cattlemen and back-country tour groups anticipating that the animal would bring about restrictions on land use. Their primary concern is not the lynx itself, which is not a natural predator of livestock, but the restrictions that may result if the cats are later declared to be a threatened or endangered species. A decision is expected by summer.

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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