Biologist rips new species list changes |

Biologist rips new species list changes

Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY – A proposal to trim a list of plants and animals used to monitor the White River National Forest would gut the agency’s efforts to keep track of ecosystem health, said Tim Snowden, a former Forest Service biologist who worked in both the Dillon and Holy Cross ranger districts in the late 1990s.Snowden, commenting on behalf of the Sierra Club, said the plan to change the so-called “Management Indicator Species” list suggests the Forest Service is trying to shirk its stewardship duties by minimizing the number of plants and animals it needs to study. “It’s like they’re saying, ‘Let’s put something on there that won’t give us any bad news,'” Snowden said. “It looks like they are trying to avoid having to do any monitoring.”White River forest ecologist Keith Gietzentanner said previously the new list would enable forest managers to use their limited resources more efficiently. Even though the number of species has been cut by half – from 18 to nine – and changed to include different species, the list is still adequate for monitoring changes in the forest, he said.The new proposed list doesn’t include enough species to represent the numerous diverse habitats of the forest, Snowden said, commenting that elk, for example, are “generalist” species that can adapt to a wide range of habitats, including developed areas like golf courses.”Species like elk are actually increasing due to man-made habitat alterations,” he said.”I look at this as about the same usefulness as considering coyotes and cockroaches as management indicator species,” Snowden said. “(These species) can survive all but a direct nuclear strike. These are admirable qualities, but … population numbers will tell managers very little about degradation of habitat.”The list slanted toward species that thrive on human-caused habitat alteration, Snowden said.”To a biologist like myself, this gives the appearance that the Forest Service has no intention of legitimately monitoring habitat loss and the effects on species on the Forest,” he said. Snowden said the list is totally lacking when it comes to species that would indicate the health of Engelmann Spruce-subalpine fir habitats in the subalpine life zone. “This type of habitat has some of the greatest pressures on it, including ski area development, logging, mining, water storage, transportation and housing development,” he said. While White River forest ecologist Gietzentanner and biologist Vern Phinney defended the proposed changes, Snowden said there are cases when Forest Service biologists “don’t fight hard enough.” “You have to understand that they’re under tremendous pressure from the industrial side of the Forest Service,” Snowden said. “That side is focused on commodities production,” he said, adding that, in the current political climate, the push toward extraction is getting even stronger.The pressure on individuals within the agency to deliver the findings sought by top officials is incredible, he continued. Snowden said he was “forced out” of the agency because the biological opinions he wrote on certain projects were not acceptable to his bosses, especially the conclusions he made when evaluating potential impacts to lynx from a salvage logging project on the White River National Forest.Vail, Colorado

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