More lynx, less habitat

by Alex C. Pasquariello

COLORADO


A U.S. Forest Service proposal for managing the threatened Canada lynx could pull the rug out from under a $2 million effort to restore the reclusive feline to its native Colorado habitat.

The lynx was considered extinct in Colorado until the state Division of Wildlife released 129 into the wild, beginning in 1999. So far, the reintroduction — the first of its kind in the nation — has been a success: In February, officials announced that at least six of the 16 kittens born in the San Juan Mountains last spring are still alive. Planning is under way for the release of 50 more lynx in April.

But on Jan. 30, the Forest Service released new recommendations for amending the management plans for most of the national forests in the state. They prioritize oil and gas exploration, power lines, pipelines, forest thinning and snowmobile trails over lynx habitat protection.

Even before the recommendations were released, almost half of the 12.2 million acres of suitable lynx habitat studied were zoned for logging, grazing, ski resorts, snowmobiling and utility corridors. The new exemptions for energy development and forest thinning will likely open more habitat to development. They were included to comply with President Bush’s Energy and Healthy Forests initiatives, says Lois Poppert, the Forest Service’s Southern Rockies Lynx Team Leader.

Ironically, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected the lynx under the Endangered Species Act in 2000, it stated that the greatest threat to the cat was the lack of attention given the animal in forest management plans.

Lynx are also taking the back seat in a similar proposal on 18.5 million acres of public lands in the Northern Rockies.

The Southern Rockies Canada Lynx Amendment Draft Environmental Impact Statement is available at www.fs.fed.us/r2/projects/lynx/. Public comment is open until April 29. © High Country News