Forester says lynx, water still protected
ASPEN – The top U.S. Forest Service official in Colorado is downplaying controversial changes the Bush administration made to the management plan for White River National Forest, which makes up large swathes of Eagle County. The official, Regional Forester Rick Cables, claimed the changes won’t weaken protections for lynx and water quality as some critics contend. Instead, the changes ordered by U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary David Tenny bring the White River National Forest’s management practices into compliance with broader federal policies, Cables said during a recent visit to the Roaring Fork Valley.Critics contend the changes were politically motivated by an administration partial to industries and extractive uses.The White River National Forest Plan was completed in June 2002 after it was signed by Cables. It immediately faced numerous appeals from environmental groups as well as industries. Appeals are common because forest plans dictate management practices for 10 or 15 years.
The 2.3-million-acre White River National Forest, which contains Vail and Beaver Creek mountains, stretches from south of Aspen to Meeker and from Rifle to Vail Pass. After reviewing the appeals for two years, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth upheld the plan in most cases and directed the White River staff to make some minor adjustments.In December, Tenny rolled back special protections the plan gave to habitat for lynx, which is listed as a federal endangered species, and water quality. Colorado’s U.S. Senator, Ken Salazar, is asking Bush administration officials to explain Tenny’s decisions.The changes are under fire from conservation groups, which contend the actions were part of the Bush administration’s anti-environmental agenda. Cables said he doesn’t see it that way.
“I’ve read some of the things about we’re going to diminish some of our protections of lynx or the whole orientation toward working for lynx habitat, and that can’t be farther from the truth,” Cables said.The Forest Service is still committed to determining if lynx can survive long-term in Colorado, which is at the southern end of its range and possibly outside of that range, Cable said.He said the update of White River National Forest Plan was started before lynx was listed as an endangered species. The strategy adopted between the Forest Service, which managed the habitat, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, which had lynx to reintroduce, was to see if the animals could thrive and preclude the need for listing.”The idea was let’s put some of these critters out on the ground and see how they do,” Cables said. “The science is not really clear about lynx and ultimately about the viability of lynx populations.”
The wildlife division’s data shows some reintroduced lynx migrated to the Independence Pass area east of Aspen.Cables said Tenny’s decision on watershed management practices in the White River also had to comply with prior agreements between the federal and state governments. When final water standards are drafted, “there will be adequate protections in place for this special place. No question that’s going to happen,” Cables insisted.Vail, Colorado