Efforts made to manage lynx
Even as biologists continue to track lynx and learn more about how they are using forest habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service are considering several management options that will help determine how the cats will fare in the long term.The Forest Service is in the midst of developing a set of plan amendments for a number of national forests in the Rocky Mountain region. Currently the amendments are in between a draft and final version, and conservation groups are concerned that protection for lynx will take a back seat to energy development and logging plans billed as forest health treatments.The draft version of the forest plan changes basically exempted energy projects and forest health projects from requirements to protect lynx habitat, said Jacob Smith, of the Center for Native Ecosystems. “It’s not surprising that we’re seeing a lot of lynx activity on the White River National Forest,” Smith said. “There’s still a lot of good habitat, but less than there was 10 years ago. We still need to protect habitat or the numbers will drop again,” he said. Of particular concern are the cumulative impacts from a slew of smaller projects that individually may not have much of an effect, but taken altogether could diminish the quantity and quality of available habitat. Smith said it’s up to the Forest Service to correct three key types of habitat: n Young forests, which are good foraging habitat for lynx, with plenty of low-hanging evergreen branches as food for snowshoe hares, in turn a critical food source for lynx; n linkages, which enable lynx to move safely between larger blocks of good habitat; n and older, relatively undisturbed forests, with a mix of vegetation that offers good denning and foraging habitat.”The linkages are not such a big deal in core areas, but they’re important when lynx are dispersing,” Smith said. That dispersal is crucial for the long-term survival of the cats, helping to create separate population pods that can serve as important reservoirs of genetic diversity, he explained.The old forests in general have seen less disturbance from human activity, and tend to overlap with designated wilderness and roadless areas, where natural disturbances have created a patchwork of mixed habitat that is particularly good for lynx, Smith explained.Along with the national forest plan amendments, the Fish and Wildlife Service is currently working on a critical habitat designation for lynx. And Smith said the federal agency missed the boat when it delivered a draft version a few months ago, completely failing to identify any critical habitat in Colorado.The agency said Colorado’s lynx population isn’t crucial to the overall survival of the species and concentrated its critical habitat designations in areas in the northern Rockies, where pockets of lynx have the potential to connect with much larger populations in Canada, where the cats are still relatively common.Smith said the controversial proposal to develop a massive resort village near Wolf Creek Pass shows the importance of designating and protecting critical lynx habitat. Had such a designation been in effect, federal biologists would have had a different yardstick with which to measure the project’s potential impacts on lynx, Smith said. Without specified critical habitat in the area, the Fish and Wildlife Service was left to offer a watered-down opinion on the project, Smith said.To ensure the return of a stable, self-sustaining lynx population in Colorado, Smith said it’s important for citizens to tell land managers they should protect habitat, Smith said.”Make it known to the Forest Service that you want lynx habitat protected,” he said. “Tell them not to approve destructive projects with impacts to lynx habitat.”
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