Controversy continues over lynx rules |

Controversy continues over lynx rules

Dennis Webb

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The acting supervisor of the White River National Forest has agreed to alter lynx- and water-management language in the forest’s management plan, concluding the changes will not hurt the environment or wildlife.Supervisor Don Carroll’s decision puts into effect decisions by U.S. Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth and David Tenny, deputy undersecretary for natural resources and environment for the Department of Agriculture. The changes eliminate a requirement that forest projects with potential to affect lynx or lynx habitat must include an assessment of ecological conditions in the area. However, the Forest Service says the forest plan already encourages lynx habitat assessments where they haven’t already been done. The Forest Service says there will be no change in management of endangered lynx and water supplies. “This amendment removes language that is redundant with direction found in Forest Service manuals and clarifies direction in the forest plan to present a more comprehensive and integrated planning document,” Carroll said.The changes anger Colorado environmentalists who believe the amendment will reduce protections for lynx and water. Sloan Shoemaker, of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, questioned the integrity of the decision-making process when it involves decisions handed down from Washington, D.C.”It doesn’t seem quite kosher to us,” Shoemaker said.Wendy Haskins, acting White River forest planner, said the decisions were legitimate and followed agency guidelines. Had the Forest Service found revisions would have resulted in negative or substantial impacts, it would have done a more extensive environmental review, she said.Still, Shoemaker said he believes Tenny’s order may violate the Endangered Species Act. He said Tenny also ignored the fact that lynx reintroduced by the state of Colorado have been tracked in the White River National Forest, which surrounds Eagle County.Shoemaker said opponents of the lynx rules raised some legitimate concerns regarding who conducts habitat assessments and who pays for them. “In that case I think you clarify the standard. You don’t just throw it out,” he said.Ken Neubecker, Western Slope organizer for Colorado Trout Unlimited, said he believes the water language changes are even more consequential than the lynx decision.”The lynx are important, but there are … a lot more streams than there are lynx,” he said.He contends the changes remove all water quality and stream habitat protections from the forest plan, opening up streams to abuse by ski areas, mountain bikers, oil and gas developers, and others.Traditionally, the Forest Service has reserved the right to require water facilities seeking to renew existing Forest Service permits to provide some water that can remain in the stream.But the change in water policy is encouraging to the Colorado River Water Conservation District. The district has contended the state has tools of its own for providing for bypass flows. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which contains the Forest Service, has shown a commitment to work with state parties “without the heavy hand of bypass flow conditions on a permit renewal,” said Chris Treese, the district’s legislative affairs director.Neubecker believes the Forest Service is not just clarifying but removing some water protections. He also said he fears that language in other forest documents could be changed more easily, and without the level of public involvement required to change the forest plan.Both Shoemaker and Neubecker said their organizations may appeal. Vail, Colorado

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