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The Lynx Choice

Bob Berwyn

The recent decision by the Colorado Wildlife Commission to release another 150 Canada lynx in southwestern Colorado is welcome news to most people here who appreciate our state’s biodiversity. For one thing, it increases the odds we may actually someday get to see one of these magnificent creatures in the wild.As a skier, I can certainly relate to the cats’ affinity for untracked snow and the still, blue-green shadowlands of the high country’s spruce and fir forests. Those are some of my favorite places, too. There aren’t too many other species out there that intentionally go looking for deep powder – in fact, most other animals (and many humans, too) go out of their way to avoid such conditions.But I wonder whether we’ve really done enough to ensure that there’s sufficient habitat for lynx to thrive, spread and reproduce.In the weeks and months leading up the recent decision, state officials made a point of saying that lynx shouldn’t be used as a way to restrict human activities. In other words, lynx are OK, as long as they don’t interfere with our ability to exploit the forests for fun and profit. To me, this sounds like the classic case of wanting to have your cake and eat it at the same time.Ski industry feedback on the lynx recovery program reflects this attitude. Resorts publicly profess support for the program (and yes, Vail Resorts did make a make a one-time contribution). But behind the scenes, officials with Colorado Ski Country USA, the National Ski Areas Association and various individual resorts have consistently opposed any measures to protect the terrain lynx must have in order to survive.In years of reading agency lynx plans and subsequent comments, I’ve not once come across a substantive statement by anyone in the ski industry in support of any single conservation measure that’s been proposed – not one. Vail may put on a brave and happy face when it comes to lynx, but the company’s lawyers kicked and screamed the whole time they were discussing mitigation measures for Cat. III – plus, they got just about everything they wanted, anyway.On one level, the debate over lynx recovery and conservation is scientific and technical. What do they eat? Are they finding enough prey? How far will they roam? What type of vegetation is most suitable? Do compacted snow trails allow other predators to compete with lynx? Does ski area snowmaking and grooming prevent the cats from using habitat around the resorts? If scientists study the cats long enough, they’ll likely be able to answer most of those questions.Bringing in more lynx is the easy answer. It’s merely a question of time and money. And it’s easy enough to say lynx conservation shouldn’t be used as a way to control human activities. But if we do that, we’re missing part of the equation.The discussion should be more encompassing. At its heart, this is a question about our values as a society. Let’s be realistic – it’s probably not possible to continue our present rate of development and consumption unchecked and still have a healthy and sustainable natural environment in the long-term.The issue of lynx conservation needs to be addressed within this larger context, otherwise we are living under the false illusion that science, technology and money can resolve every problem we encounter.It’s time for gut check. Are we willing to make a few choices that will enable animals like lynx to survive? Yes, it may mean giving up a few snowmobile routes or a desirable backcountry ski hut location, or some favored powder stashes in the backcountry. It may mean limiting ski area expansions in a few places, or restricting snowmaking or grooming at certain times. It may mean managing parts of the forest with an eye toward conservation rather than resource extraction.But is that really asking too much considering what’s at stake?Bob Berwyn is a freelance writer in Silverthorne. Check out other columns and articles at http://www.coloradoskiwriter.com.


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