Colorado left out of lynx habitat plan
SUMMIT COUNTY ” Colorado’s lynx reintroduction program may be a rousing success so far, but the wild cats now roaming across many parts of the state won’t soon get any additional protection from the feds.
Under a federal court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a plan Wednesday to designate critical habitat in Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho and Washington ” but ignored the southern Rockies completely.
Leaving Colorado out of the plan is “entirely backwards,” said Jacob Smith, executive director of the Center for Native Ecosystems.
“They’re supposed to say, what habitat do we need to protect to recover the species,” Smith said.
Instead, the agency concluded that since there is no verified record of a self-sustaining lynx population in the state, no critical habitat designation was required.
“Colorado didn’t qualify under that criteria,” said Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Diane Katzenberger. Critical habitat adds very little protection for species, Katzenberger said, adding that lynx in Colorado are still fully protected under the Endangered Species Act.
“The strongest lynx populations, the ones that have stuck around, are all adjacent to Canada,” said Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Lori Nordstrom, explaining that the proposed critical habitat designations are all in places where lynx can wander across the border to mingle with populations in the Lower 48.
Nordstrom speculated that the historic Colorado lynx population may have died out because it lacked connectivity with that pool of numerous animals north of the border, and said it was too soon to tell whether the reintroduced population will be successful in the long run.
The critical habitat designation adds an extra layer of consultation among federal agencies for actions ” road-building, logging, ski area expansions ” that could affect lynx habitat.
The federal proposal is still open to public comment through Feb. 7. The agency is particularly interested in hearing whether there are additional areas, such as the Southern Rockies, essential to the conservation of the species, said regional director Ralph Morgenweck.
He is sure to get an earful from Colorado conservation groups, who immediately expressed disappointment with the federal proposal.
“Thanks to the Colorado reintroduction efforts, there are now lynx moving into and even denning in Wyoming,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “But we’ll never recover lynx if we don’t protect lynx habitat.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s rationale for excluding Colorado based on the lack of a verified record of a self-sustaining population may not stand up to a legal test, said Mike Senatore, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney with Defenders of Wildlife.
“It’s not consistent with anything in the Endangered Species Act that I’m aware of,” said Senatore, who fought the court case that forced the federal agency to come up with the critical habitat designation in the first place.
“They don’t like doing these designations and the fact they’ve made up a new excuse for Colorado isn’t really surprising,” Senatore said.