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.”

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