Ski areas cautiously consider key ruling |

Ski areas cautiously consider key ruling

Bob Berwyn

Washington, D.C. may be a long way from the Rocky Mountains, but the recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler on the lynx is already having repercussions in Grand Junction, where U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Kurt Broderdorp coordinates conservation efforts for the threatened cat.Broderdorp says his agency is in a wait-and-see mode at the moment, pending potential appeals or additional clarification of the ruling. But efforts to identify critical habitat likely will begin immediately, led by a Montana-based biologist. Kessler’s order specifically precluded the agency from delaying work in that area.Broderdorp says that, for the past two years, various projects on federal lands have been evaluated under a lynx screening process that was developed in consultation among the agencies.&quotWe developed those screens in a programmatic consultation,&quot Broderdorp says.Under the criteria developed for the screen, projects deemed to have &quotinsignificant and discountable&quot impacts to lynx were allowed to proceed without site-specific studies, Broderdorp says.That screening process – designed to streamline the evaluation process – has been set aside for now, since the judge’s order appears to require formal, site-specific consultation for every project in lynx habitat, Broderdorp says. Even with the streamlined system, some user groups have been concerned with the length of the evaluation process, he adds, mentioning the ski industry, ranchers and off-road vehicle users as some of the interested parties.A separate agreement with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) will remain in effect, he says, adding that, despite the legal action, the ultimate goal is still to establish a self-sustaining population of lynx.The state’s re-introduction program won’t be affected by the court ruling, says CDOW spokesman Todd Malmsbury. &quotWe don’t expect that issue to have any effect, certainly in the short term anyway because it is a state re-introduction. All the federal agencies involved (BLM, Forest Service, Park Service, USFWS) have endorsed and support what we’re doing but it’s not contingent upon their approval because it’s a state program,&quot Malmsbury says.&quotIf anything, it just underscores the importance of Colorado going forward with its own efforts to restore the species. Because, inevitably, there are a lot of legal issues and legal constraints involved with the Endangered Species Act, which is why so many things have been delayed sometimes,&quot Malmsbury says.The ski industry also reacted cautiously to the court decision. &quotAt this point, I would say we are definitely concerned about the potential impact this could have in terms of delaying projects,&quot says Geraldine Link, director of public policy for the National Ski Areas Association.But Link says there is a possibility the judge’s order could be lifted as part of an appeal. For now, Link says she is waiting to hear how the agencies would implement the order, or even if the order will stand.

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