Environmentalists file appeal of lynx plan for Rocky Mountains
DURANGO, Colorado ” Conservation groups are asking the U.S. Forest Service to provide more protection for lynx in the southern Rockies.
Four groups have filed an appeal of a Forest Service management plan for lynx in national forests in Colorado and one in southern Wyoming. They say the Forest Service made improvements from a draft plan, but the final plan still gives preference to other uses of the forest over habitat for the cat.
Durango-based Colorado Wild, the Center for Native Ecosystems, Defenders of Wildlife and WildEarth Guardians filed the appeal with the Forest Service Monday.
The final plan, released in November, weakens standards and guidelines for logging, snow grooming for recreation, road upgrades and gas and oil development, the groups said.
“If the amendment’s weaker standards and guidelines are applied to areas in the Southern Rocky Mountains, lynx recovery may be delayed or even thwarted altogether,” said Rocky Smith of Colorado Wild.
The lynx population in the southern Rockies is small and vulnerable to extinction, even with conservative management, Smith said.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife has released more than 200 lynx from Canada and Alaska in the state since 1999 to restore the cat to Colorado.
At least 116 lynx kittens have been born in Colorado since the restoration began. State wildlife biologists say no newborn kittens have been found the last two years, possibly because of a decline in the number of snowshoe hares, the cat’s main prey.
The long-haired cats, found mostly at high elevations, are listed by the federal government as threatened in 14 states, including Colorado.
The Forest Service has said the plan’s intent is to manage vegetation to support snowshoe hares. There would be exceptions for logging and other activities in lynx habitat to reduce wildfire risk.
The Forest Service said the final version was modified to give forest managers more flexibility in dealing with the bark-beetle infestation that has killed more than 1.5 million acres of pine trees in Colorado.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating 42,753 square miles in six states as critical habitat for lynx, possibly placing the area under tighter federal oversight. The states are Maine, Minnesota, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming.
Colorado, at the southern tip of the cat’s historic territory, was left out of the proposal. Federal officials have said it’s not clear if the Colorado population will sustain itself.
The agency originally designated only 1,841 square miles in three states as critical lynx habitat but reconsidered after allegations that Julie MacDonald, a deputy assistant secretary of the interior, interfered in that and other decisions. She resigned.