Caught on camera: Big cat on I-70 prowl

For months, dozens of motion-sensor cameras along I-70 between Golden and Glenwood Springs have been snatching nocturnal images of wildlife, in an effort to study how elk, deer, bears and other species negotiate the beastly interstate. The cameras, maintained by the Center for Native Ecosystems, Eco-Resolutions, Colorado Department of Transportation and other partners, captured all sorts of critters seeking to cross under or over the road, including martens, porcupines, mule deer and black bears -- but no lynx, mountain lions or bobcats.

The result puzzled researchers. Were the felines just too elusive, or were they crossing somewhere else? But the cameras have finally caught their first mountain lion. The picture above was taken west of Eagle on August 18, 2009 at 1:32 a.m. and recently posted by CNE.

Tracking migration patterns and documenting habitat fragmentation caused by the crunch of traffic and development is a critical aim of the project. Environmental groups are pushing to build a wildlife bridge over I-70 near Vail Pass, a proposal examined in my August feature "The Bridge to Somewhere."

Felines are among the intended beneficiaries of a wildlife bridge -- especially the camera-shy Canadian lynx. The Colorado Division of Wildlife has spent millions to re-establish the lynx in state forests, only to see several of the cats end up as roadkill; four have died trying to cross I-70, including a pregnant female.

For more snaps of wildlife seeking to cross the road, check out the Center for Native Ecosystems site.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast