Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Maine landowners fight lynx habitat designation

By JOHN RICHARDSON, Staff Writer

Monday, September 25, 2006

About one-third of the state could soon be classified as critical habitat for endangered Canada lynx.

But the companies that own most of northern Maine and use the forests for logging and for development have asked to have their land exempted from the habitat area.

No one is certain how the designation would affect future land uses in what is the richest lynx habitat in the United States, but the Maine landowners, along with wildlife conservation groups that support the habitat designation, are making their final appeals to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the Nov. 1 decision approaches.

"We have concerns about lynx (in Maine), and here they are, trying to get exempted," said Jen Burns, attorney for Maine Audubon.

The group is filing arguments opposing the landowners' exemption requests. The proposal to designate 10,633 square miles in Maine shouldn't be reduced simply because the owners want to be left out, she said.

"One of the issues that we're exploring is the impacts that the development will have on areas of known lynx habitat," Burns said.

Plum Creek Timber Co., for example, is trying to rezone property in the proposed habitat area around Moosehead Lake for two resorts and nearly 1,000 house lots. Some of that development is targeted for a peninsula north of Lily Bay, where many lynx sightings have occurred, Burns said.

Maine Audubon and other advocates also say the designation would help make sure logging practices take lynx protection into account.

The potential for added regulation worries the landowners.

"We think only bad can come of it," said Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, a timber industry group based in Augusta.

The council is asking for exemptions for 15 to 20 members who own about 5.5 million of the roughly 6 million acres that are in the proposed Maine habitat area, Strauch said. The owners include Plum Creek, Irving Woodlands LLC and Seven Islands Land Co.

Strauch said the habitat designation will reduce property values and may be manipulated to oppose any development even if the it wouldn't harm the lynx population.

The designation also could introduce costly restrictions on logging practices such as the clearing of undergrowth to accelerate tree growth, he said.

"It creates more uncertainty for landowners in the region to have another layer of federal regulations," he said.

Timberland owners also argue that more regulation is unnecessary because the lynx already are doing so well in Maine's commercial forest. Tree cutting creates thick undergrowth and expanded shelter for snowshoe hares, the favorite prey of Canada lynx and the primary reason they like Maine.

"We've got all the conditions needed for creating that habitat without the designation," Strauch said.

State wildlife officials have sided with the landowner group, arguing that the case for designating critical habitat in Maine is technically flawed and unnecessary.

"Right now we have lynx habitat because of the ongoing forest operations," said Ken Elowe, director of resource management for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.

Because lynx are listed as an endangered species, state wildlife officials already review logging and development activities in habitat areas, Elowe said. In fact, he said, state officials are reviewing Plum Creek's development plans and how they might affect lynx habitat.

"We're looking at every wildlife issue and that will be taken into account," he said.

The designation as critical habitat would require another layer of review in those areas, but the added review will apply only to projects that require federal involvement, such as a wetlands permit or funding.

Federal officials, meanwhile, say the habitat designation won't mean dramatic changes in land uses or oversight in northern Maine's privately owned forests.

"The population is doing very well there," said Lori Nordstrom of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We thought it was important to maintain the best habitat."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: jrichardson@pressherald.com

THE CANADA LYNX (Lynx canadensis) is a secretive, medium-sized cat that is often confused with the bobcat. Its range extends from Alaska, throughout much of Canada, to the boreal forests in the northeastern United States, the Great Lakes, the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains.
THE LYNX HAS long hind legs and wide, well-furred paws that act like natural snowshoes, enhancing its ability to hunt in deep snow. It has tufted ears, a flared facila ruff and a short, black-tipped tail that looks as if it had been dipped in paint.

THE LYNX IS a specialist predator that feeds mostly on snowshoe hares, but it also eats small mammals and birds such as red squirrels and ruffed grouse.IN MAINE, biologists have found that male lynx establish home ranges of about 40 square miles while females have home ranges of 12 square miles.

BREEDING occurs in late February and March, and kittens are born in May. Litters in Maine range from one to four kittens and average two kittens per litter.

Sources: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

TO COMMENT, INFORMATION

THE U.S. FISH and Wildlife Service is due to decide Nov. 1 on a critical-habitat designation for endangered Canada lynx. More than half of proposed the 18,000-square-mile area is in northern Maine. Other affected states include Minnesota, Montana, Idaho and Washington.

OCT. 11 IS THE deadline for public comments on the proposal. Written comments may be submitted electronically to fw6Lynx@fws.gov or mailed to Lynx, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Montana Field Office, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601.

FOR INFORMATION about lynx and the proposed critical habitat designation, go to: http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/species/mammals/lynx/, or to http://tinyurl.com/gew7z.

FOR INFORMATION on the Endangered Species Program:http://www.fws.gov/endangered/

http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/news/state/060925lynx.html

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