Mountain Studies Institute and Air Quality

Mountain around Silverton, by Heather Ellis

Mountain around Silverton, by Heather Ellis

Devon Dey interviews Aaron Kimple, Project Manager of the Mountain Studies Institute, about air quality in the mountains. The Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) is an independent, non-advocacy, not-for-profit 501(c)3 center for research, education, and outreach. MSI operates its headquarters and a high-altitude field station in Silverton, CO. MSI also has an office on campus at Fort Lewis College in nearby Durango, CO. Their mission is to enhance understanding and sustainable use of the San Juan Mountains through research and education.

The Missing Lynx

Drawing by Liz Grogan

Lynx and Bobcat - by Liz Grogan

The San Juan Mountain range has lost yet another endangered lynx. Early in October, a four year old male lynx was killed with a bow and arrow near Silverton. He is just one of many lynx that are unable to survive in their Rocky Mountain home.

The last native lynx died in the Colorado Rockies around 1973, but in the past decade officials have released over 200 cats from Canada in a precarious reintroduction program. The lynx have been struggling to survive due to climate problems, habitat destruction, and, occasionally, illegal hunting.

While lynx are federally protected, their close cousins the bobcats are not.  Lynx and bobcats look very similar, especially from a distance, but there are a few key characteristics that distinguish them. Lynx are larger, with longer, solid grey fur. Bobcats are more colorful; their coats are a reddish-grey color, and have more prominent spots. Lynx have shorter tails than the bobcat’s, and are not striped.  Unfortunately, the most distinguishing features of the lynx, the black ear tufts, are difficult to see unless you’re right up next to them.

Lynx are also facing difficulties due to climate change. Warmer temperatures at higher altitudes, paired with decreased precipitation, means snow cover is shallower. The lynx prey almost entirely on snowshoe hares, and are perfectly adapted to hunt the animals through deep snow drifts. However, as snow depth decreases, the hares are unable to hide from competing predators. As a result, opportunistic predators such as coyotes easily snatch up the prey, leaving lynx to starve. Survival rates for lynx are alarmingly low. In Canada, where lynx are relatively numerous, up to 80 percent do not live longer than 3 years. It may not be a problem for the natural lynx in Canada, but it’s a huge problem for those in our San Juan Mountains.

Lynx already struggle to survive; the least we can do is ensure we do not directly contribute to their deaths. Just by learning the differences between lynx and bobcats, and not shooting when in doubt, hunters can play their part in protecting the beautiful Rocky Mountain lynx.

– Liz Grogan