Stroke of pen changes lynx, water protection |

Stroke of pen changes lynx, water protection

Cliff Thompson
Special to the DailyRules protecting lynx and water quality on the 2.3 million acre White River National Forest have been removed from the forest's master plan by an administrative order.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Rules protecting lynx and water quality on the 2.3 million acre White River National Forest have been removed from the forest’s master plan by an administrative order.The change in regulation in the state’s largest national forest was met with suspicion and angry words from environmental groups such as Colorado Wild. Forest plans, which are updated at approximately 15-year intervals, provide a blueprint for managing the forest.The change was ordered by David Tenney, deputy undersecretary for natural resources with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which reversed rulings last year by Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. “This is pure politics and a very bad decision,” said Rocky Smith of Colorado Wild. “(Tenney) wrote the decision as if he didn’t know there’s a lynx reintroduction program in Colorado.” Smith said he suspected “political interference by ski areas.”Vail Resorts could not be reached for comment Monday.Lynx, which are considered a threatened species because of their scarcity in the southern Rockies, were front and center when Vail Resorts proposed building Category III, now Blue Sky Basin. The presence of lynx in that area would have forestalled the development of the 885 acres of ski terrain, but the Forest Service approved the ski area’s plan, sparking strident environmental protest and the $12 million 1999 arson fire of Two Elk Restaurant and other on-mountain facilities. Lynx were last seen on Vail Mountain in 1974. A two-stepWhile Tenney’s decision cannot be appealed, the amendment it requires of the forest plan, adopted two years ago, can be appealed, said Dan Hormaechea, acting deputy forest supervisor. Smith said his organization will file an appeal and if unsuccessful with the appeal will litigate.Current forest plans require evaluation of the potential harm to lynx by ski areas on a project by project basis. Tenney’s order removes those and replaces it with an as yet uncompleted southern Rockies forest plan. That plan, according to wire service reports, contains exemptions from lynx considerations for oil and gas development, energy-transmission lines and healthy forest projects that comply with White House policy directives.In wire service reports Tenney said there is no evidence that there are lynx in the White River National Forest. Sixr years ago the Colorado Division of Wildlife began a lynx reintroduction plan in southern Colorado. Those lynx in the Rio Grand National Forest have reproduced successfully and lynx have spread across the state. Radio collar monitoring of lynx shows they are present in the White River National Forest.Two lynx have been killed by traffic on Vail Pass since the reintroduction in the Weminuche Wilderness more than 180 miles southwest.A ‘handful'”We have had lots of an lots of radio location records of lynx ,” said Keith Giezentanner, White River Forest wildlife program manager. “”There is proof they have been here historically and over the last six years. We’ve had lots of sightings.” He said there’s a “handful” of lynx in the forest, but actual numbers at any one time on the snowshoe hare-eating cat are uncertain.Tenney also ordered White River National Forest officials to delete provisions of the forest plan that provided stricter water quality standards, calling them “redundant.” When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed the White River Forest Plan, it found the provision protecting lynx adequate to earn it a “no jeopardy” classification. That could change because of Tenney’s order, Smith said.There are seven ski areas on the White River National Forest, which hosts 8.4 million visitors annually, with most of them skiers.It’s not the first forest plan to be changed by Tenney. Smith said Tenney ordered changes to provisions of the Rio Grande, Routt and Arapahoe/Roosevelt National Forest plans in 2000 and 2001 concerning viability of sensitive wildlife species.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado

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