New lawsuit challenges inadequate critical habitat designation
FRISCO — It’s been 15 years since Canada lynx were listed as a threatened species, and wildlife conservation groups are still battling the U.S. government in court over critical habitat designation for the rare, snow-loving cats.
In the latest legal move, the Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Wild, and Alliance for the Wild Rockies went back to court this week, claiming that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service still hasn’t got it right. According to the lawsuit, the agency neglected to include numerous large areas of prime lynx habitat, corridors and occupied areas throughout five national forests in Montana and Idaho, as well as millions of acres in the Southern Rockies. Continue reading “Environment: 15 years after endangered species listing, lynx are still spurring lawsuits”→
The latest critical habitat designation, subject to a 90-day comment period, would cover about 41,547 square miles within the boundaries of five critical habitat units in the states of Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming.
Colorado wasn’t included because the agency doesn’t believe that the state’s population is essential to the long-term conservation of the species, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Jim Zelenak.
“We looked at the historical record and the biological history of lynx in Colorado and it’s just not clear that Colorado ever supported a persistent population over time … We recognize the potential for lynx in the southern Rockies … but our approach has been to look at those places with persistent populations over time. We want to feel fairly certain that an area has the physical attributes needed to support lynx,” Zelenak said. Continue reading “Feds revise critical habitat proposal for lynx”→
Habitat occupancy assessment to help monitor status of population
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists say they’re close to finalizing a plan to monitor the state’s lynx population by assessing habitat occupancy. If successful, the strategy would enable researchers to determine whether the population of endangered wild cats is sustaining itself over time.
The habitat occupancy model was tested in a pilot program in core lynx habitat in the San Juans a couple of years ago, showing that about 50 to 60 percent of the available lynx habitat is occupied. Now the biologists are trying to figure out if they can use the same method to keep tabs on lynx across the entire state.
Lynx have been listed as a threatened species since 2000, with a population in New Mexico currently under consideration for listing as a candidate species. Colorado launched a restoration program in 1999, transplanting more than 200 lynx from Canada and Alaska to the San Juans.
The reintroduction effort was declared a success about two years ago, after 10 years of intensive monitoring, with on-the ground visits to lynx dens, as well as tracking via airplanes and satellites. The tracking shows that the population has spread northward, with resident, breeding lynx up through the Collegiate Range and even into Summit County, with pockets of populations north of I-70.
In a draft report on the pilot study, biologists said it’s not feasible to accurately estimate population numbers, but assessing habitat use and occupancy can help determine whether the population is stable, growing or declining — and might also show trends in habitat use, for example in response to changing forest conditions. Colorado Parks and Wildlife lynx research is online here. Continue reading “Colorado biologists planning statewide lynx assessment”→
DU Law Clinic may help with administrative or legal challenge
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service approval of the Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area probably won’t go unchallenged. Longtime critics of the project scrutinizing the the final environmental study say they are likely to appeal several elements of the decision, including, fundamentally, whether the expansion meets the stated purpose and need.
Vail Resorts claimed from the start that the new lifts and terrain will ease congestion at Breckenridge by spreading out skiers on peak visitation days, but at least some of the data in the Final Environmental Impact Statement seem to contradict that conclusion.
Skiers and snowboarders will still have to use the busiest lifts out of the Peak 8 base area to reach the new terrain. At one point in the document the Forest Service appears to flat-out acknowledge that the expansion won’t significantly shorten lift wait times on Peak 7 and Peak 8.
New lynx assessment could affect forest management and recreation planning; ski ares excluded from conservation zone
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service biologists have identified a lynx conservation zone in southern Summit County where they hope to preserve and enhance as much lynx habitat as possible. The mapping was done after an assessment concluded that cumulative effects in the area may be “approaching or exceeding impact thresholds.”
Lynx tracking by Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists shows that Summit County is a critical area for lynx dispersing north from core habitat areas in the eastern San Juans. That trend could increase, as spruce beetles have devastated large swaths of favored lynx habitat in the southwestern part of the state.
Additionally, Summit County has several resident lynx. Denning females with kittens have been documented, so protecting movement areas and improving habitat could ensure the persistence of those lynx, as required by the Endangered Species Act.
“Summit County is right in the middle of it all … it’s pretty compelling. We have a lot of data to work with and it was time to pull it together, given Peak 6, and knowing all the other projects that were coming up,” said Dillon District Forest Service biologist Ashley Nettles. Continue reading “Biodiversity: Saving lynx in Summit County”→
Court rules that the Forest Service violated federal environmental laws by changing maps and approving logging
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Lynx in the northern Rockies got a boost from a federal court this week, as U.S. District Court Candy Dale halted a large lodgepole pine thinning project in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, on the western border of Yellowstone National Park.