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

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