Limits on thinning could hinder forest management and spur more beetle kill
By Bob Berwyn
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado,
SUMMIT COUNTY — A U.S. Forest Service proposal to protect lynx habitat in the southern Rockies hit a snag this week, as the Colorado Timber Industry Association announced it will appeal the plan.
The timber group is particularly concerned by the proposed widespread restrictions on thinning young stands of dense lodgepole pines. Limiting thinning could lead to another cycle of pine-beetle infestation, disease and fire years hence, said association president Carl Spaulding.
The plan also has been appealed by conservation groups, which charge that new rules won’t adequately protect lynx.
The young trees are an important food source for snowshoe hares, which, in turn, is the primary prey of the threatened cats. The lynx-protection plan includes limits on thinning young lodgepole to protect that food source.
“How many acres do you need to grow bunny rabbits?” Spaulding said.
The ban on thinning will hinder the agency from managing lodgepole forests effectively, he said, adding that the Forest Service may simply be trying to save money by avoiding thinning.
“This rule precludes them from doing any thinning. Let’s manage what we can physically and economically,” he said. “Thinning those dense stands is a critical step in ... avoiding the forest conditions that have contributed to the current mountain pine beetle epidemic.”
He suggested that the agency didn’t consider alternatives to allow for thinning of forests.
The plan already has been tweaked to give rangers more flexibility in dealing with forest-health issues like pine beetles, said biologist Nancy Warren, one of the plan’s main authors.
The agency has been working on a regional lynx-protection plan for eight years. The proposed forest plan amendment would be applied to about 14.6 million acres in all national forests in the Rocky Mountain region where lynx live.
The proposed plan also would limit clear-cutting to protect habitat for lynx. The key goal of the plan is to balance timber management with the need to protect that habitat.
Thinning of young lodgepoles would be delayed until the lower branches are out of reach of snowshoe hares, which depend on the green branches for winter food, Warren said.
There are also exceptions for projects aimed at reducing the wildfire danger near homes, said Warren.
Forest Service squeezed
The federal agency is feeling pressure from both sides. Conservation groups also announced they will appeal the plan because it slices away strict forest-plan standards — considered mandatory rules for forest managers — and replaces them with guidelines, which don’t have the same regulatory clout.
The Forest Service has recognized that large-scale vegetation management is the action most likely to affect the survival of lynx across broad landscapes, Warren said.
The rule also spells out limits on logging in higher-elevation spruce and fir stands.
“It’s become clear that multi-story spruce and fir stands are very important for lynx,” Warren said.
As a result, the agency will conduct only “uneven-age stand management” in that forest type. That means there won’t be widespread logging, but selected removal of small groups of trees, taking care to maintain enough cover for lynx dens and daytime hiding places.
The “watered-down” regulations sought by the timber industry could delay or even thwart lynx recovery in the region, according to Rocky Smith, who analyzes Forest Service management plans for Colorado Wild, a Durango-based watchdog group.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org