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.”