Local lynx make their way to Utah

Two Canada lynx released northwest of Durango earlier this spring have hit the road and made their way to Utah in search of new home ranges. Utah was once lynx habitat, though none of the cats that are listed as "threatened" have been spotted since the early 1970s.

"This is great news. I hope they decide to stay," Kirk Robinson, executive director of Western Wildlife Conservancy, told the Salt Lake City Tribune . "Utah is historic lynx habitat, and there is no reason why it can't support them again."

The two males are wearing radio collars and their movements are being tracked by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The two were part of a DOW release into the San Juan Mountains near Creede. The first cat, a 5-year-old, has traveled more than 400 miles from the release site and was last found crossing Utah's Uinta Mountains. There is some speculation that he might be headed back to British Columbia, where he was originally trapped. The second cat, a 3-year-old, is believed to be wandering the canyons of the Green River.

Forty-eight other lynx were released into the San Juans this spring in an effort to reintroduce the native animals to the region. Last year, the effort witnessed a major milestone when the births of wild lynx in Colorado were confirmed. DOW trackers located six female lynx with a total of 16 kittens at high-elevation sites in the San Juans.

The reintroduction is planned to continue with the release of 50 more lynx next year and 30 others in 2006 and 2007.

La Plata County lifts fire restrictions

Bowing to widespread rain and increased local moisture, the La Plata County commissioners voted to lift fire restrictions this week. However, fire remains a threat, and residents are encouraged to exercise caution.

Upon the recommendation of Sheriff Duke Schirard and local fire chiefs, the commissioners lifted the countywide restrictions on open burning. The fire restrictions were originally enacted to minimize the high-degree of fire danger that existed in La Plata County due to a lack of moisture and extremely dry conditions.

Near Dolores, the Stoner Mesa, Stoner Creek and Spring Creek trails have also been reopened as activity on the Spring Creek Fire has slowed. The fire estimated at 550 acres was a Wildland Use Fire and was being allowed to burn for the benefits of wildfire.

Cautionary signs have been posted at the trailheads warning users of snags and fire-weakened green trees that could fall at any time but especially during weather events like rain or wind storms.

Meanwhile, two fires in the region continue to burn. Firefighters are working to contain a small fire burning in Cross Canyon, about 9 miles south of Dove Creek in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. The 50-acre fire is believed to have been started by lightning. Over the weekend, the Campbell Fire near Nucla spread to approximately 4,500 acres and was the primary cause of hazy skies in Durango.

Tests find local spread of West Nile

The San Juan Basin Health Department reports that recent tests show that area mosquitoes are infected with West Nile virus.A cooperative testing arrangement between the Florida Mosquito Control District and the Animas Mosquito Control District has identified a high concentration of infected mosquitoes south of Durango.

The two districts set up a trapping site along their contiguous border south of Durango. After one night of trapping, 157 of the mosquitoes most likely to carry the virus were caught. The districts then tested two pools created from the trap and they both tested positive for West Nile Virus.

The districts said that their findings indicate that the virus is becoming more widespread in La Plata County. As a result, they urged people to protect themselves and their families by minimizing exposure to mosquito bites.

For more information, call the La Plata County and City of Durango Infoline at 385-INFO x2260.

HD Mountains meetings coming up

Local residents have two final opportunities to speak up about the proposed drilling of gas wells in the HD Mountains. On July 14, more than 200 people packed into the Bayfield High School cafetorium and most of them spoke out against drilling plans.

While that meeting was slated as the only opportunity for the public to have oral comments, three more have been added, and they will take place Aug. 11 and 19.

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are currently studying a preferred alternative for 273 new natural gas wells in the region and 25 directional wells would be placed inside the HD Mountains Roadless Area. Conservationists and residents charge that these gas wells would threaten stands of old-growth ponderosa pine, abundant wildlife and the very health and safety of their homes and families. The proposal would also put 60 miles of new roads into a designated roadless area.

In the interest of gauging as much public input as possible, three new public hearings have been added to the slate. Concerned citizens will now be able to submit oral or written comments into the public record at the following meetings:

•Wednesday, Aug. 11, from 6-9 p.m. at the Bayfield High School Cafetorium

•Tuesday, Aug. 17, from 6-9 p.m. at the Archuleta County Fairgrounds in Pagosa Springs

•Thursday, Aug. 19, from 6-9 p.m. at the San Juan Public Lands Center in Durango

People are also encouraged to submit written comments through Sept. 13. For more information, call 247-4874 or log onto www.nsjb-eis.org.

Spruce Tree House awarded grant

Mesa Verde's Spruce Tree House will benefit from a giant round of grant funding. This week, the State Historical Fund, a program of the Colorado Historical Society, awarded 53 grants, including one for the Spruce Tree House, totaling $3,766,878. The Mesa Verde project will entail the documentation of the 139 rooms and eight kivas at Spruce Tree House, the multi-storied Puebloan complex.

According to Mark Wolfe, Colorado's deputy state historic preservation officer, this project and the others will help preserve the story of Colorado's rich archaeological, social and commercial history. "These historic sites are tangible reminders of our past," he said. "They were often built by local people using native materials with a level of craftsmanship that we rarely see anymore. It's what gives Colorado character."

compiled by Will Sands





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