White River plan now to include lynx | AspenTimes.com

White River plan now to include lynx

Janet Urquhart

The new management plan for the White River National Forest will contain provisions for managing lynx habitat that were not included in the controversial draft plan for the forest.

The Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region plans to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) that evaluates the effects of managing lynx habitat, including habitat in the White River Forest.

Though the public comment period on the draft forest plan has passed, the agency will accept input on the new provisions associated with the lynx. The new forest plan is to be put in place by May 2001.

The White River, a 2.5-million acre forest that includes most of the public land surrounding Aspen, boasts plenty of prime habitat for the Canada lynx, according to Keith Giezentanner, forest ecologist for the White River National Forest.

The lynx provisions could affect use of the forest in the Aspen area, he said.

Lynx habitat – forests of spruce, fur and lodgepole pine – is prevalent in the upper Roaring Fork River valley, Giezentanner said. The habitat provides a home to the snowshoe hare – the lynx’s main prey.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has released 96 of the elusive cats in the state in an effort to reintroduce the species. Though none of the releases have occurred near Aspen, lynx on the move may travel long distances and the habitat here must be managed for the animal’s presence, Giezentanner said.

“We have to manage the habitat whether we can prove they’re there or not, because they could be there next year,” he said.

The triangle of forest stretching from Aspen to Leadville to Vail was historically a prime spot for lynx, Giezentanner added.

Management provisions for activities like timber cutting, winter recreation and livestock grazing may need to be adjusted to accommodate protection of lynx habitat, according to the Forest Service.

In the Aspen area, that most likely means avoiding expansion of packed-snow trails into lynx habitat, Giezentanner said. Snowmobile trails and heavily used cross-country ski and snowshoe trails create packed snow that allows coyotes access into areas they would otherwise avoid when the snow is deep. There, they compete with the lynx for prey and occasionally prey on the lynx themselves. The trails also let a more likely lynx predator – the mountain lion – into forests where they probably would not otherwise hunt.

“Coyotes are accessing country that they never used to be in,” Giezentanner said. Humans are paving their path.

Though no move to close existing trails is planned, the Forest Service will look to prevent the expansion of packed-snow trails in lynx habitat. If for example, a new backcountry ski hut is proposed that requires miles of trail through lynx habitat, the Forest Service would likely close a trail elsewhere so there is no net gain, Giezentanner said.

The Forest Service is seeking comments as it drafts the EIS, which is expected to be released this fall. The current comment period will end Aug. 14.

Information about the lynx amendment process is available at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2 – the Forest Service Web site.

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