Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New Colorado development may put lynx at risk

Even developer Ginn Co. says 'project will result in an adverse affect'

J.K. Perry
Vail, CO Colorado
December 25, 2006

EAGLE COUNTY - Some conservationists believe development of a private ski resort on Battle Mountain, as currently designed, will destroy potential lynx habitat and areas the animals might travel through.

Colorado Wild conservationists based in Durango and others evaluated the Ginn Co.'s development south of Minturn and submitted their findings to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The federal agency is conducting an environmental study of the development and what may have to be done to lessen the effect on wildlife.

Ginn Co. officials hope to build 1,700 homes, a golf course and 1,100 acres of ski terrain on and around Battle Mountain.

"Serious adverse impacts to lynx habitat ... appear inevitable from development of the Ginn property at anything approaching the scale proposed," said Ryan Demy Bidwell, director of Colorado Wild.

Ginn Co. representatives familiar with the lynx issue were not available to comment.

Lynx became a federally threatened and state endangered species after the animals were eliminated by humans in Colorado during the early 1970s.

Whether lynx roam Battle Mountain is debatable. The Ginn Co. found no traces of lynx in the area, although the Colorado Division of Wildlife has tracked lynx moving across the property.

The largest population of lynx exists in the San Juan Mountains, southwest of Eagle County, where lynx were reintroduced beginning in 1999 as part of a Division of Wildlife program. Lynx have since popped up on Vail Pass and Independence Pass, and in Summit County and Aspen.

Battle Mountain includes places hospitable to lynx - the dense underbrush of spruce fir trees where their favorite prey, snowshoe hares, also reside. The Ginn property is also considered a link between Eagle's Nest Wilderness and Holy Cross Wilderness, Bidwell said.

The high-altitude development of homes on Battle Mountain, increased traffic and the presence of humans, cats and dogs will eliminate the habitat and that link, Bidwell said. He suggested several changes to the development, such as limiting the number of homes built.

"Whatever development occurs up there needs to be consistent with the protection of lynx habitat on the property and the connectivity of habitat in the region," Bidwell said.

Even Ginn Co. researchers admit the development will hurt lynx.

"(The) project will result in an adverse affect to Canada lynx and lynx habitats through direct habitat loss and the indirect effects of increased traffic along U.S. Highway 24, which would fragment habitat and increase the chances of lynx mortality from traffic strikes," a company report said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service ultimately decides how the Ginn Co. must lessen the blow to lynx. What exactly the service might decide is unknown, said Al Pfister, Western Colorado supervisor for the agency.

The Fish and Wildlife Service gathered public comments - including those from Colorado Wild - which it plans to consider in a study of the Ginn development's effects on lynx and other wildlife. The study will include ways to lessen the effects.

A draft of the study is expected next spring, with another public comment period to follow, Pfister said. The final draft might be completed six months later, he said.

Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928 or jkperry@vaildaily.com.


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