Forest Service will track fewer species
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – If you’re wondering about the health of our national forests, ask an elk.The U.S. Forest Service and some environmentalists agree on that much, but differ over the agency’s decision to cut back on what animals and plants it monitors to track the health of the White River National Forest, which stretches from Summit County and Vail to Aspen and west of Glenwood Springs.Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson has decided to more than halve the number of species the Forest Service tracks to measure how well the forest is being managed. There are now seven so-called “management indicator species” on the forest’s list.”That’s not good, and we’ll have to consider challenging that,” said Rocky Smith, forest watch coordinator for the environmental group Colorado Wild.The Forest Service had been monitoring 16 species or groups of species. It now plans to track of elk, cave bats, aquatic macroinvertebrates, all trout, and three birds: the American pipit, Brewer’s sparrow and Virginia’s warbler.That leaves out snowshoe hare, northern sage grouse, the alpine willow and pinon-juniper trees, among others.The agency trimmed the list because it believes some species aren’t good indicators of forest health, are too difficult to monitor, or are redundant.”What we try to stress is that our … list is not completely static. If something’s not working, we try something else,” said Kristi Ponozzo, spokeswoman for the White River National Forest.For example, she said, the Forest Service plans to use Virginia’s warbler in place of another warbler species monitored in the past because it’s a better measure of the effects of activities like controlled burning.The black swift had been monitored to evaluate the health of waterfalls, but was removed because the Forest Service has no major activities planned for these waterfalls, which it doesn’t have a lot of anyway. Rangers also has learned that a major waterfall-area activity – hiking – wasn’t hurting the swifts, Ponozzo said.Smith said the forest didn’t have enough species on its list even before cutback. For example, he objects to the removal of the snowshoe hare because it is a good indicator how well lynx are doing. Lynx are a threatened species that prey on the hare. Smith said there are other ways to keep tabs on lynx habitat, but tracking hare is a useful one.”I think you shouldn’t remove that tool from the arsenal,” he said.Ponozzo said the Forest Service already protects lynx habitat, and that the indicator-species program isn’t the only way the agency keeps an eye on animals and plants.”We monitor for species of viability concern, regionally sensitive species, and threatened and endangered species,” she said.