Federal agencies have not yet started the formal consultation process required to determine the plan’s impacts on the rare cats roaming the forest
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A planned March release of the final trails plan for the White River National Forest could be at risk because of delays in completing the required biological studies, especially the reports needed to assess impacts to threatened Canada lynx.
Forest Service officials said last last year they hope to complete the travel management plan by March, but a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said he hasn’t had a chance to review lynx information to evaluate how the new trail plan might impact the rare cats.
“We have not received the biological assessment for the travel plan … nothing has been sent to us formally for Section 7 consultation,” said Grand Junction-based biologist Kurt Broderdorp, who coordinates lynx conservation efforts between the Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies. The Fish and Wildlife Service is the federal agency responsible for managing animals on the the endangered species list.
“We’re getting close,” said White River forest travel planner Wendy Haskins, referring to the biological studies needed to complete the formal consultation between the agencies. “We worked with them early in the process and sent a draft biological assessment,” she said. Haskins said the Forest Service hopes its sister agency won’t need all the time its legally allotted to review the science and make a response, known formally as a biological opinion.
But Haskins acknowledged that the required process between the two agencies could affect the release date of the White River forest travel plan.
Under federal environmental laws, the Forest Service is required to disclose what impacts its actions could have on endangered species. Since the travel plan covers thousands of miles of trails across the White River forest, its likely to have some impacts on lynx (as well as numerous other species).
At issue is exactly how much of an impact, whether the impacts threaten the lynx and what the Forest Service must do to mitigate impacts. In the legal terms described by the Endangered Species Act, the Forest Service must say whether of not the plan will adversely affect lynx and result in “take.”
Once the Forest Service provides the information to the FIsh and Wildlife Service, Broderdorp responds with the formal biological opinion, a document that outlines suggested mitigation measures.
Broderdorp said that, from his early look at draft documents, the new travel plan is an improvement over existing baseline conditions — especially with a move toward more strictly managed motorized use both winter and summer. But that doesn’t elimate the need for a detailed look at the the scientific information, he added.
Based on the scope of the plan, neither Broderdorp nor Haskins expects a “no effect” determination. With that, the agencies must work together to minimize and mitigate impacts, a process that could take several months once the paperwork has been exchanged.
Broderdorp said the new plan is an improvement because it restricts motorized travel to designated routes. He said lynx can adapt to human activities if it stays within certain parameters much more easily than to unpredictable and dispersed use. Limiting snowmobiles to designated trails and play areas in the winter should help to maintain the integrity of lynx habitat and movement corridors in the forest, once those important areas have been clearly delineated, he added.
Filed under: public lands, Summit County Colorado, wildlife Tagged: | conservation, endangered species, Environment, forest service trails, lynx, public lands, Summit County News, travel management, White River National Forest, wildlife