Possible presence of lynx can add time to land-use proposals | AspenTimes.com

Possible presence of lynx can add time to land-use proposals

Jeremy Heiman

A medium-sized cat is figuring into the time it takes to get permission for activities proposed on Colorado’s federal lands.

Since last March, the U.S. Forest Service has been required to call on a sister agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to examine some proposals for their potential to affect Canada lynx populations. But the requirement came into closer focus this winter, when it became clear the Aspen Skiing Co.’s recent proposal for night snowmobile tours could have been postponed by such a study. The snowmobile proposal was withdrawn over the weekend.

The consultations are performed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. They are required when a federal land agency such as the Forest Service determines that a proposed activity or development has a reasonable likelihood of doing harm to a rare animal population.

Diane Katzenberger, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman, said the consultations are required under the Endangered Species Act. Lynx consultations have been done since the cat was listed as threatened in March.

Lynx hadn’t been seen in Colorado for several years before a reintroduction project was begun two years ago by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. A number of the cats were released in the San Juan Mountains, and some have been tracked by their radio collars to points near Aspen.

When a species is threatened or endangered, any application for a permit to carry out activities or development on federal land or with federal funding triggers a screening to determine if a consultation is needed. In instances where the proposed project is in the listed species’ known habitat, the consultation is automatic, Katzenberger said.

Keith Giezentanner, forest ecologist for the White River National Forest, said the Forest Service has a screening process that is used to decide whether a project requires a Fish and Wildlife consultation. The screening process may take as little as an hour, he said. If an activity or project is found to have little impact on a listed species, the activity is screened out.

Numerous types of proposals trigger the need for a consultation in relation to lynx habitat. A timber sale, a trail building project, expansion of a ski area, an outfitter and guide company’s application to use an area or development of campgrounds or other recreation areas all might call for a consultation.

If a consultation is needed, Fish and Wildlife must determine whether the project could jeopardize the future of the local population of the listed species. At the conclusion of a consultation, Fish and Wildlife biologists issue a report, called a biological opinion or biological assessment, Katzenberger said.

In such a report, Fish and Wildlife may suggest “reasonable and prudent alternatives” that the applicant can take, such as reducing the size of a proposed project or selecting a different route to avoid prime habitat of the species under study.

Such a biological assessment was done on the new master plan soon to be completed for Ashcroft Ski Touring, Giezentanner said. Another nearby project that will probably require a lynx consultation is the logging of timber downed by severe wind in Baylor Park, west of Carbondale. That proposal is now under review.

The time allowed under the Endangered Species Act for a consultation is 130 days, Giezentanner said, but two months may be closer to the average.

“It’s a typical bureaucratic process,” Giezentanner said. The clock doesn’t start ticking on the 130-day limit until Fish and Wildlife has all the necessary information and documents from the Forest Service.

Other projects might require a much longer analysis, and the time required for a consultation depends on the scope of the project.

“I’ve seen consultations take 10 years,” Katzenberger said, “but that was the entire Missouri River.”

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