Monthly Archives: April 2005

Elected officials join push to restore lynx protection in White River

By Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

April 22, 2005

Pressure is mounting on the Bush administration to put teeth back into protections for lynx in the White River National Forest.

Eight state legislators sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture yesterday objecting to a deputy’s order in December 2004 to strip protections for lynx that were written into the forest plan.

Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald and Rep. Kathleen Curry, a Democrat who represents the Roaring Fork Valley, were among the eight legislators who signed the letter.

“We, the undersigned Colorado decision-makers and citizens, urge the USDA Forest Service to immediately reinstate the full protections for this rare and important boreal species,” the letter said.

Seven of the eight legislators who signed it are Democrats. Curry said she doesn’t know if that will sway the Republican administration.

The White River National Forest Plan was completed in June 2002 after four years of research and citizen input. After considering appeals for two years, the head of the Forest Service upheld all significant portions of the plan.

But later in 2004, Deputy Undersecretary David Tenny issued a “discretionary review” to alter the plan’s direction on protection of lynx habitat. The decision was controversial because it ran counter to the Bush administration’s philosophy of honoring local desires. Conservationists claimed it displayed the administration’s anti-environmental leanings.

In addition to the state legislators’ letter, Pitkin, Eagle, Gunnison and Boulder counties have passed resolutions objecting to Tenny’s action. U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar has also demanded an explanation from the Department of Agriculture. Tenny is scheduled to visit Salazar in Denver today.

The issue has triggered “a massive green uprising by Colorado legislators,” claimed Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of carnivore protection for the group Sinapu. The group is part of a coalition that recruited legislators to sign the letter objecting to Tenny’s actions. Sinapu works for restoration and protection of native carnivores in the southern Rockies.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife embarked on a lynx recovery program in 1999, releasing Canadian lynx into the high country of Colorado. There are now at least 80 adult lynx in the region and those adults have given birth to at least 55 wild lynx kittens, according to Sinapu. Some of the lynx have taken residence on Independence Pass east of Aspen.

Keefover-Ring said conservationists want the Department of Agriculture to “back down” on their decision.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

Officials vie for full protection of Canada lynx

By MIKE McKIBBIN
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Local and state elected officials sent a letter Thursday to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to urge the reinstatement of full protections for Canada lynx in the White River National Forest management plan.

A recent decision by Deputy Undersecretary David Tenny to remove provisions that would conserve lynx and their habitat was “disappointing,” the 11 officials said, and they added it was vital to restore agreed-upon protections for the threatened animals reintroduced in Colorado in 1999.

Among those who signed the letter to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns were state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, who represents several counties in the White River Forest, state Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Denver, state Rep. Mark Larson, R-Cortez, San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes, San Juan County Commissioner Peter McKay and La Plata County Commissioner Wally White.

Resolutions in support of reinstating lynx protections in the plan also were approved by Eagle, Pitkin, Gunnison and Boulder county commissioners.

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., was to meet with agriculture officials today in Denver to discuss the issue. Salazar earlier urged the department to explain its decision.

The forest plan was released in June 2002 after five years of effort that included many public meetings and input from more than 14,000 people.

Last December, Tenny ordered the White River Forest to throw out provisions that would conserve lynx and their habitat on the 2.3 million-acre forest.

Tenny said the protections were not needed since there was no evidence the cats existed in the White River area.

Wendy Keefover-Ring, carnivore protection program director for Sinapu, a Boulder-based group working to reintroduce wolves in Colorado, said radio collars show at least 43 lynx have been tracked in the White River Forest.

The lynx are “extensively utilizing habitat” in the forest, the officials said in their letter, and “affirms the decision to make protecting lynx habitat one of the most important considerations in managing the forest.”

Keefover-Ring said the “incredible success story of the lynx in Colorado is in jeopardy due to outsiders.”

She said a 2001 opinion poll found 79 percent of Coloradans supported lynx reintroduction.

The lynx is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has estimated there are about 80 adult lynx in the state, and at least 55 wild lynx kittens have been born.

“Given the importance of maintaining a good balance between protecting lynx and managing other uses of the White River National Forest,” the letter said, “we believe it is vital that the Forest Service retain the measures for protecting lynx that the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed were necessary to minimize harm to this species whose continued existence could otherwise be threatened.”

Lawmakers pen letter protesting lynx policy

Dennis Webb
Post Independent Staff

State Rep. Kathleen Curry has joined seven other Colorado lawmakers in urging the federal government to reconsider revising the Canadian lynx policy in the White River National Forest plan.

State Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald sent a letter Thursday to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns criticizing the decision by his deputy undersecretary, David Tenny, to do away with certain provisions protecting lynx habitat on the forest.

“States hold wildlife in trust for citizens for their conservation and protection. Therefore, the undersecretary’s decision represents a breach of this public trust obligation,” Fitz-Gerald wrote Johanns.

Fitz-Gerald wrote the letter on behalf of fellow state lawmakers, including Curry, D-Gunnison, whose district includes much of the WRNF, including its headquarters in Glenwood Springs.

Supporting the letter in the state legislature are seven Democrats and one Republican, Mark Larson, whose House district is in southwestern Colorado. Gary Lindstrom, a Democrat whose House district includes WRNF acreage in Eagle and Summit counties, also endorsed the letter. So did three county commissioners from San Juan, San Miguel and La Plata counties. Eagle, Pitkin, Boulder and Gunnison county commissions also have passed resolutions opposing Tenny’s action.

Tenny issued his decision in December, in response to an appeal of the forest plan. Critics have said he ignored the fact that lynx reintroduced by the state of Colorado beginning in 1999 frequent the WRNF. Fitz-Gerald wrote that “lynx are extensively utilizing habitat on the White River National Forest; thus, affirming the decision to make protecting lynx habitat one of the most important considerations in managing the WRNF.”

Since Tenny’s decision, the WRNF has agreed to alter lynx language in the forest plan, concluding that the changes will have no adverse environmental impacts.

Forest Service officials say the forest plan amendment results in no change in management of lynx. They say the change simply removes language that is redundant with other agency direction and clarifies that direction. The plan amendment eliminates a requirement that forest projects with a potential to affect lynx or lynx habitat must include an assessment of ecological conditions in the area. However, the Forest Service says the forest plan already encourages lynx habitat assessments where they haven’t already been done. Also, projects can’t allow for a reduction of suitable lynx habitat where more than 30 percent of a lynx analysis unit already is unsuitable habitat.

Fitz-Gerald wrote that the original WRNF lynx language “provides basic protections for Colorado’s recovering population of Canada lynx – a result of extensive consultation between the WRNF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Given the importance of maintaining a good balance between protecting lynx and managing other uses of the White River National Forest, we believe it is vital that the Forest Service retain the measures for protecting lynx that the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed were necessary to minimize harm to this species whose continued existence could otherwise be threatened,” she concluded.”

Freedom beckons 6 lynx

Reintroduction program nears end

By DEEDEE CORRELL
THE GAZETTE

DEL NORTE – Lynx No. QU05M08 wasn’t ready to go.

He peered out from his metal cage, straight down the lens of a National Geographic photographer’s camera, then withdrew.

One minute passed, then another.

Twenty yards across the snow, among the spruce and fir, lay freedom.

Finally, he went for it.

Seconds later, the lynx had vanished, becoming Saturday the newest transplant to a state his species once called home.

The $2.5 million lynx reintroduction program the Colorado Division of Wildlife began six years ago is reaching its apex and drawing to an end.

Not only is this the last year wildlife officials intend to release large groups of the cats into the San Juan Mountains, but it’s also the first year they will have a real chance of telling whether the reintroduction effort is working.

Kittens born in Colorado are old enough to breed, and if they do, it could mean the species is once again taking hold.

“I’m optimistic,” wildlife researcher Tanya Shenk said. “But I’m also a scientist, and I have to wait and see.”

This year also is significant because state officials are lobbying the federal government to ease restrictions on construction and logging designed to protect lynx habitat.

Environmentalists say it’s too soon — that the lynx, which disappeared from Colorado by the 1970s, hasn’t had enough time to take root again.

Saturday morning, a caravan of cars headed to Ivy Creek, south of Creede in the San Juan Mountains. Leading them were three pickups, each carrying two tarpwrapped cages. As the onlookers, including a team from National Geographic, whose story is expected to be published next year, waited in silence, workers carried the cages one by one onto the snow, facing the woods beyond.

The first of the six cats to go was a young male captured in Quebec province, Canada. Like the others, he was flown to Denver, then trucked down to the Frisco Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center outside Del Norte, where the cats are kept in pens and fattened before their release. Days before freedom, biologists sedate the cats, then fit them with radio transmitter collars so their movements can be tracked for years.

The lynx hesitated for several minutes before wildlife technician Loree’ Harvey decided to coax him out. She kneeled at the back of the cage, reached in and scratched her fingers in the hay. The noise, she said, would irritate him enough to make him want to get out. It did. The second and third cats went more quickly, loping across the snow and disappearing. “It’s like watching your kids go off to college,” Harvey said. The difference is that she doesn’t know whether they’ll survive. Of the 166 animals released since 1999, biologists think as many as 105 are still alive. Others have roamed out of the research area, into New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, or have died. One male lynx recently killed another in a territorial dispute. Mountain lions have killed three others, and some have fallen victim to cars or poachers.

If some Lynx are dying, others are reproducing. At least 55 kittens have been born, and if those kittens have kittens, wildlife officials will know they’ve taken a significant step toward success — when more lynx are born than die.

For now, though, their status remains precarious.

That’s why restrictions on development and other activities in lynx habitat should not be lifted, said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, a Boulderbased environmental group.

Because the government declared the lynx a threatened species, federal rules limit development in areas where it lives. Rules vary by location, but can restrict timbering, snowmobiling, new roads and construction of skiarea lodging.

“We need to make sure not only are the animals (reproducing), but that there’s sufficient habitat protected for them,” she said.

The goal always was to create a program in which lynx could survive in the Colorado of today, not the Colorado of 100 years ago, said Bruce Mc-Closkey, Division of Wildlife director.

“That was the deal,” he said.

dcorrell@gazette.com