New lynx conservation studies posted for public comment
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO —Designating 41,000 square miles of critical habitat for lynx in the northern Rocky Mountains won’t have a huge economic impact, federal biologists said last week as they took another step toward finalizing conservation measures for the threatened wild cat. Most costs associated with lynx conservation will be on the administrative side, as the critical habitat designation would result in the need for more coordination among federal agencies. Visit this Federal Register page to view all the documents and comment.
Two draft studies examining the effects of the proposed critical habitat designation in Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Wyoming were posted July 21 in the Federal Register for public comment. The latest version of the long-contested proposal includes revised critical habitat maps “based on where the best science indicates the habitat could support lynx populations over time,” but includes only areas where lynx populations already exist” — with the exception of Colorado.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working on the critical habitat designation for almost 10 years. The first proposal, back in 2005, only designated about 1,800 square miles of habitat. Two years later, the agency started revising the proposal after “questions were raised about the integrity of scientific information used and whether the decision made was consistent with the appropriate legal standards,” according to the Federal Register announcement.
Since then, the process has been interrupted by several lawsuits filed by conservation groups trying to expand protections for lynx. Most recently, a federal judge set a deadline for the agency to complete recovery planning, chiding the Fish and Wild Service for continued delays.
“Lynx are such mobile and far-ranging predators that they frequently traverse great distances and inhospitable habitats in search of prey. Determining where protections are essential is critical to the effective long-term conservation of this charismatic cat,” said Michael Thabault, regional director for ecological services in the USFWS Mountain-Prairie Region.
Lynx were first protected under the ESA in 2000, when the USFWS identified lack of conservation measures as the primary threat to the cats. Since then, the U.S. Forest Service has adopted a series of lynx conservation measures that go a long way toward assuring protection for the species.
According to the draft economic analysis, incremental costs resulting from the critical habitat designation are unlikely to reach $100 million in a given year based on the number of anticipated consultations and per-consultation administrative and project modification costs. Because all proposed critical habitat is occupied by lynx populations and most has been designated as lynx critical habitat since 2009, section 7 consultation already occurs, and incremental costs are expected to be minimal and largely administrative.
The draft study also spells out how the critical habitat designation could affect various activities on federally managed lands, including recreation, timber harvesting and wildfire management. Proposed projects in those categories that fall within designated critical habitat would be subject to another level of scrutiny and would have to be modified in some cases.
The 30-day public comment period is open through July 21, 2014, to allow the public to review the draft documents. All relevant information received from the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties will be considered and addressed in the agency’s final identification of habitat essential to the species’ conservation.