By Bob Berwyn
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily
Lynx are powder-loving wildcats closely related to bobcats. They once thrived in Colorado’s alpine zones, but were hunted and trapped to near extinction in the late 1800s.
Before state biologists started re-establishing a lynx population with cats transplanted from Canada and Alaska in 1999, the last confirmed lynx sighting in the state was near Vail in the 1970s.
Although the specialized predators had become exceedingly rare, the federal government refused to put the cats on the endangered species list until legal action by conservation groups forced the listing.
Conservation groups petitioned for a listing in 1994. In 1997, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unlawfully had refused to propose listing the lynx under the ESA.
The judge ruled that the federal government “relied on glaringly faulty factual premises, and ignored the views of its own experts” in refusing to consider the lynx for listing.
The agency finally complied, listing lynx as threatened in 2000. The lack of an adequate regulatory mechanism to protect lynx on national-forest land was cited as one of the primary threats. The new rule released this week is intended to address that question mark.
Conservation groups continue to accuse federal agencies of foot-dragging, for example by its hesitation to declare critical habitat for lynx. It required another lawsuit by conservation groups, and another stern rebuke from a federal judge, before the wildlife service released a critical-habitat proposal. Colorado wasn’t included in the critical-habitat proposal, a decision that could lead to yet another lawsuit.
The agency left Colorado out of the critical-habitat equation based on the claim that the state’s lynx are not crucial to overall survival of the species across its North American range.
Conservation groups say that’s nonsense, and that Colorado of all places, with a population of several hundred transplanted lynx, needs a critical-habitat designation.
The Endangered Species Act obligates the federal government not only to protect listed species, but to actively seek recovery, making sure populations of threatened plants and animals can persist across their historic habitat.
The new Southern Rockies Forest Service rule, in the form of a regional forest plan amendment, and other documents related to lynx conservation are available on the web at: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/projects/lynx.
Questions regarding the lynx rule should be directed to Nancy Warren at (303) 275-5064.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org