Feds: Colorado’s lynx don’t need critical habitat | SummitDaily.com
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Feds: Colorado’s lynx don’t need critical habitat

BOB BERWYN
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Lynx living in Colorado will have to survive without a critical habitat designation. The entire state and its population of transplanted and native-born cats was not included in a critical habitat map released last week by federal wildlife officials.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said Colorado is not crucial to the overall survival of the species, and that it’s unclear whether the state’s transplanted lynx will become established as a self-sustaining population.

Conservation groups panned the draft proposal, but state biologists agree with the federal mapping effort.

“The agency does not believe a critical habitat designation is necessary to help with our reintroduction program,” said Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski. “The Colorado population is not necessary for the survival of the species. The density of animals (lynx) in the north is far higher than in Colorado and thus can withstand fluctuations in the hare populations. Given the low density of animals in Colorado, no one is sure if the population could withstand food source fluctuations.”

Lynx have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 2000. The powerful 1973 conservation law requires the federal government to take steps to protect and recover listed species. Critical habitat designations are often used to ensure that federal agencies don’t authorize or fund any actions that would destroy habitat needed to ensure the survival of a listed plant or animal.

Lawsuits by conservation groups spurred the listing of lynx as threatened, as well as the critical habitat proposal.Wildlife conservation advocates have been working on the issue for 17 years. They may challenge the latest proposal in court once again to make sure important areas in Colorado are protected for lynx.

A previous critical habitat proposal for the cats was withdrawn after charges that eight different endangered species actions may have been tainted by political influence. Some evidence suggested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency decisions may not have been consistent with legal standards requiring use of the best available scientific information.

The first critical habitat map included only 1,841 square miles in Minnesota, Montana and Washington. The revised version includes 42,753 square miles in Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming.

“This review underscores the Service’s commitment to ensure (Endangered Species Actions) are based on the best available science,” federal officials said in press release.

“We’re pleased with how they revised it,” said Jonathan Proctor, who advocates for predator protection on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife. “It’s better in many areas but still not good enough,” Proctor said.

According to Proctor, Colorado’s lynx would benefit from a critical habitat designation. Proposals for logging projects, ski area expansions and winter trails in critical lynx habitat would have to pass a “straight-face test,” he said.

“All these things would have to be seriously looked at in critical habitat, Proctor said.

The federal logic for leaving Colorado off the map doesn’t make sense to Proctor and other wildlife conservation advocates. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Colorado out of the designation because the agency isn’t sure whether the 200-plus transplanted lynx will establish a self-sustaining population. But protecting the areas most important for denning and hunting would be a step in that direction, according to Proctor.

The lynx in the southern Rockies are most in need of protection, according to Proctor.

Under existing lynx conservation agreements, federal agencies already take a close look at any project that could affect lynx. Proposals for tree thinning, for example, must pass a screening for impacts to habitat.

But a critical habitat designation would tighten those standards. That could be crucial to making sure the cats can survive in the southern Rockies, where their habitat is fragmented naturally, as well as by human activities, according to Proctor.

State biologists transplanted about 200 cats from Canada and Alaska during the past few years in an attempt to establish a self-sustaining lynx population. The cats spread from the San Juan release area throughout the state and started reproducing a few years ago. But birth rates dropped radically last year. Now, state wildlife officials aren’t sure whether the cats can find enough food in Colorado.

The (division of wildlife) has always stated that our intention is to determine if lynx can survive in Colorado in the current environment (including human impacts),” Lewandsowski said. “The (division) is not going to advocate for changes in land use based on the survival of the lynx.

“(T)he critical habitat designation is made by the USFWS to identify those areas needed for the survival of the species. Until it can be shown that the species can survive here over the long term, the state will never be considered critical habitat,” Lewandowski said.

The critical habitat proposal is open to public comment through April 28. Comments can be made at a federal government web clearinghouse at http://www.regulations.gov. All comments received on the proposal will be posted at that same site.

1. The specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which are found those physical or biological features;

a. Essential to the conservation of the species; and,

b. That may require special management considerations or protection;

and;

2. Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is listed, upon a determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species.

The critical habitat proposal is open to public comment through April 28. Comments can be made at a federal government web clearinghouse at http://www.regulations.gov. All comments received on the proposal will be posted at that same site.


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