Opinion: USFS stance on Peak 6 a bad deal for lynx

A Colorado lynx kitten, photographed by Tanya Shenk, former leader of the state's lynx recovery team.

Agency justifies support for expansion by saying lynx habitat is already degraded, but why make things worse?

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — With the Breckenridge Town Council set to take another crack at the Peak 6 expansion tonight, I pulled out my notes from the last meeting to review what White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams had to say about the project with regard to lynx, a species that’s still hovering on the brink of survival in Colorado. Even better, I was able to listen to his comments in an audio recording that’s embedded in this Summit Voice story. More discussion of Peak 6 is schedule at about 4 p.m. during the Aug. 9 council meeting. The agenda is online here.

I did this because I remember being annoyed at what I felt was a cavalier dismissal of the concern about the Peak 6 project’s impacts to lynx habitat, and I wanted to go back and make sure that it wasn’t just filtering what I heard through my own pro-lynx, pro-conservation bias.

Essentially, Fitzwilliams said that, regardless of whether the Peak 6 expansion proceeds or not, that particular lynx analysis unit (it’s called the Swan Mountain LAU) has been so degraded from a variety of factors — including pine beetle damage — that it’s only 50 percent functional as lynx habitat.

So why make it even worse by impacting an area that’s acknowledged to be some of the best remaining habitat within the degraded LAU? I guess we all know that Vail Resorts is driving this process, and that the Forest Service is merely the enabler, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. Continue reading

Colorado: Will the lynx survive?

A lynx in the wild counry of Colorado. PHOTO COURTESY COLORADO DIVISION OF PARKS AND WILDLIFE.TANYA SHENK.

State wildlife agency testing new method for monitoring wild carnivore populations on a landscape scale

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — If you’ve been waiting for the 2011 spring lynx kitten count from the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, don’t hold your breath. Instead if visiting individual dens to collar and count lynx, state biologists are shifting gears, working to determine whether the wild cats can hold their own in Colorado in the long run with an unprecedented habitat occupancy model.

Intensive monitoring during the first 10 years of the state lynx recovery program included annual visits to lynx dens, as well as aerial and satellite monitoring. The research yielded detailed information about lynx behavior and reproduction, including annual reports that specified the number of new kittens as a way of measuring reproductive success. The 2009-2010 annual lynx program report is online here.

But this year, state biologists are switching to a new mode of tracking the rare mountain wild cats. Using a network of motion-activated cameras, snow tracking and genetic sampling, the researchers hope to determine where the cats are living, eating and sleeping, and how well they are filling all the available habitat in the state. An overall assessment of the Colorado lynx recovery program is online here.

The data from those sources will help document the distribution and persistence of lynx across the landscape, said biologist Tanya Shenk, who led the Colorado recovery effort in its first 10 years and now works for the National Park Service as a climate change and landscape ecologist. Shenk said there has been a general move by wildlife and conservation biologists to move away from invasive techniques that put a lot of stress on individual animals. The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife lynx program information is online here. Continue reading

Colorado cuts lynx recovery budget

Canada lynx kittens in Maine

Canada lynx kittens in Maine. PHOTO COURTESY THE U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE.

State shifting resources away from intensive on-the-ground monitoring; total cost of program so far is about $3.7 million, mostly funded by donations and GOCO dollars

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — After 12 years, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is transitioning away from intensive statewide on-the-ground lynx monitoring. Instead, the wildlife agency will move toward statistical modeling of lynx populations, and the use of remote sensing equipment to help track the rare cats.

At the peak of the program, the division was spending about $400,000 per year on lynx recovery. last year, the budget for the program dropped by about $150,000 to $200,000.
Altogether, the program has cost about $3.7 million between 1998 and 2009, according to Rick Kahn, the agency’s terrestrial section manager.

The biggest source of funding, about $1.9 million, came from Great Outdoors Colorado.
About $1.2 million came via donations, including from the Colorado Wildlife Heritage Foundation and from Vail Associates. The rest came from the division’s license fee fund, Kahn said. Learn how the money was spent after the break … Continue reading

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