Conservationists: More protection for cats is needed
by Ann Butler
Herald Staff Writer
Article Last Updated; Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Conservation groups have asked the U.S. Forest Service to provide more protection for lynx in the Southern Rocky Mountains.
On Monday, Durango-based Colorado Wild, the Center for Native Ecosystems, Defenders of Wildlife and WildEarth Guard-ians filed an appeal with the chief of the Forest Service asking that an amendment to the service's land-management plans in seven national forests in Colorado be repealed and a stronger one issued. The appeal covers seven national forests in Colorado, including the San Juan and Rio Grande national forests. The final version of the amendment was released in November.
"Though improvements have been made since the draft amendment, the Forest Service still needs to do more to ensure the recovery of lynx in the Southern Rockies," Paige Bonaker, staff biologist at Native Ecosystems, said in a news release.
The groups say that under the Endangered Species Act and its own rules, the Forest Service is required to protect threatened and endangered species such as the lynx from agency actions that would harm them. They claim that the current land-management plan gives preference to other uses by weakening standards and guidelines for timber production, snow compaction for recreation, road upgrades and gas and oil development. All of those changes may reduce the ability of lynx to flourish and reproduce.
"If the amendment's weaker standards and guidelines are applied to areas in the Southern Rocky Mountains, lynx recovery may be delayed or even thwarted altogether," said Rocky Smith, forest watch program director at Colorado Wild. "The Southern Rockies lynx population remains small and is still vulnerable to extinction, even with conservative management. Under the amendment, many activities potentially harmful to lynx would be allowed, which would put the population at increased risk and make its recovery even more difficult to achieve."
Colorado Wild and the Center for Native Ecosystems are particularly concerned that the Forest Service amendment did not take into consideration key lynx needs, such as important habitat linkages and ensuring a minimum amount of territory suitable for lynx to den.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not designate critical habitat for lynx in the Southern Rockies because it felt it was unclear whether a self-sustaining lynx population will become established in the region. Opponents to the current amendment said that without stronger management by the Forest Service, it will be even more difficult for the lynx to become self-sustaining.
The amendment also fails to include in its definition of "occupied habitat" several areas in which lynx use has been documented, including the mountains of northern New Mexico and eastern Utah. Conservation groups are asking the Forest Service to amend additional land-management plans for national forests in those states as well to protect lynx habitat. U.S. Fish and Wildlife said last week that the listing status of lynx to include New Mexico may be warranted.
The U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region office was unavailable for comment Monday.
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