Federal official explains lack of lynx protections
A federal official says a White River National Forest plan’s failure to incorporate information about Colorado’s lynx reintroduction effort contributed to a decision to overturn a part of the plan aimed at protecting the animal.Mark Rey, undersecretary for natural resources and environment for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, explained the position in a two-page letter U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., received this week. Rey wrote that the lynx provisions in the plan revision “relied on information that concluded that … there had been no documented occurrences of lynx on the White River National Forest since 1974.”When the lynx protection was appealed to the Agriculture Department, its appeals rules required it to base its decision on what is in the appeal record.”In this case the record did not include information regarding the state’s lynx reintroduction effort. It would have, therefore, been inappropriate to use this information in formulating the discretionary review decision,” Rey wrote.But Rocky Smith, of the Colorado Wild environmental group, disagrees with Rey, saying the WRNF plan addresses the state lynx plan. He said page N-11 of the final environmental impact statement for the plan refers to a total of 96 lynx being reintroduced in Colorado, and discusses what has happened to some of those lynx.”The information is in the record. Maybe he or Mr. Tenny didn’t read it,” Smith said.David Tenny is the Agriculture Department deputy undersecretary for natural resources who made the appeals decision regarding the lynx provision.The Colorado Division of Wildlife more recently estimated it has released 166 lynx in Colorado since 1999. Tracking shows nearly a third of them have traveled into the White River National Forest. Lynx are considered threatened nationwide and endangered in Colorado.Salazar earlier asked for an explanation of the Agriculture Department’s decision, which he said disregarded the input of 14,000 people into the forest plan. Tenny has since agreed to speak at informal public hearings in Colorado to elaborate on it.Rey wrote that the decision was also based on the fact that the public didn’t have a chance to comment on the lynx provisions of the forest plan, and the White River National Forest hadn’t been included in a lynx plan covering other national forests in Colorado.The Agriculture Department has ordered the Forest Service to bring the WRNF into that planning process. The Agriculture Department also ordered the Forest Service to apply the lynx provisions of the forest plan in areas where there is clear, documented evidence that the animal is present.Smith said those areas will be hard to establish because lynx are wide-ranging and difficult to find, especially in the summer, when they can’t be tracked on snow.Smith predicted the appeals decision is likely to trigger a new confrontation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over lynx. Provisions of the WRNF plan had been aimed at appeasing previous Fish and Wildlife concerns over a lack of lynx protection, he said.”It’s a horrible decision, and this letter doesn’t clear it up at all,” Smith said. “So much for the Bush administration’s [emphasis on] local decision-making, eh?”
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