Lawmaker protests lynx change
SUMMIT COUNTY – Changes to lynx management rules in local forests don’t sit well with some Colorado elected officials, including Breckenridge Democrat Gary Lindstrom, who recently asked the U.S. Forest Service to reinstate a recently stricken provision that required wide-ranging lynx studies for site-specific project evaluations.Lindstrom, who also represents Eagle County, was one of several lawmakers who recently signed on to a letter urging the U.S. Forest Service to maintain protections for lynx in the state.”We feel that it was improper to remove the protections that would conserve the lynx in Colorado,” Lindstrom said. “We need to do everything we can to look after these animals.”The standard was deleted earlier this year, after a Department of Agriculture official in Washington, D.C. ordered the White River National Forest – which surrounds Eagle County – to amend management policies and adopt long-awaited regional lynx management rules.White River Forest officials said the amendment wouldn’t affect lynx management on the ground and signed off on the change. But the removal of the standard was widely perceived by conservation groups as weakening protection for the wild cat, listed under the Endangered Species Act. ‘Critical phase’Kurt Broderdorp, the Grand Junction-based U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who reviews most of the proposals for projects that could affect lynx habitat, said the policy change doesn’t have an immediate effect on the way he scrutinizes projects.
“We’re actually status-quo,” Broderdorp said. “From my perspective, nothing has changed.” The basic requirements for consultation and review are still in place, he said, with some exceptions under regulations for “forest health work,” such as cutting trees to reduce potential of wildfire. If the Forest Service has a project that might affect lynx, it must do a biological assessment to evaluate the impacts, Broderdorp said. Breeding activity among the transplant lynx hasn’t resulted in the modification of any projects, with most of the dens in remote or inaccessible areas, he said. So far, breeding has been among cats that were transplanted from Canada and Alaska, and biologists will be watching closely to see if the next generation of Colorado-born cats continues the cycle. Broderdrop called this a “critical phase.””The research that’s being done in Colorado is still just scratching the surface,” he said, acknowledging that the reintroduction of large carnivores is still an experimental part of conservation biology, an evolving science. Climate change
Ultimately, large-scale forest dynamics could be key to the long-term survival prospects of lynx in the Southern Rockies, Broderdorp said. The long-standing regime of fire suppression has not been the best for lynx habitat, he said.”Forests need to be dynamic, to have successional stages, where one place burns out and then is great habitat in 20 years,” Broderdorp said. “There are a lot of things that need to be done that are not being done. We need more of the regenerating stuff.”Young, sprouting forests with bushy and low-hanging branches provides forage for snowshoe hares and the other small mammals eaten by lynx. Broderdorp said human activities, including roads, urban developments, ski area projects and grazing activities, have a cumulative impact on lynx, but reckoned that forest dynamics – including the as-yet unknown impacts of climate change – would likely play a larger role in the future of the cats.==========================================Cat chroniclesThe plan: The lynx protection plan for the White River National Forest does not include a provision for a wide-ranging study on the lynx, causing some lawmakers to write a letter urging the re-instatement of the provision.
How a recovery effort could succeed: Documented breeding, a commitment to additional re-introductions, and a focus on extensive research and monitoring are signs that a state-led recovery effort could be a success.What’s holding up the lynx plan? • At the federal level, legal action. Under one pending lawsuit, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must designate critical habitat for the threatened cats, a politically sensitive process that constrains options for the land’s use.• At the regulatory level, a proposed Forest Service proposal to develop regional lynx conservation plans has been delayed time and time again. Those plans were a key piece of a conservation agreement between the two federal agencies, but the deadline was missed years ago.• A draft of the regional plan was released last year, but was immediately criticized for exemptions, including for energy and forest health projects.What the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says: “We still have some habitat out there that could hold some lynx,” said Kurt Broderdorp, the Grand Junction-based Fish and Wildlife biologist who reviews most of the proposals for projects that could affect lynx habitat. “The research that’s being done in Colorado is still just scratching the surface.”==========================================Vail, Colorado
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