Steamboat Springs Winter recreation and logging likely will be impacted after Routt National Forest officials adjust their management plans to make room for the lynx an animal that hasn't been seen around here in decades.
The cat was listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month, ending a decade of pressure from animal activist groups. After the listing, Routt National Forest officials began the process of amending the forest plan to protect the lynx habitat.
Though a lynx isn't known to live in the Routt Forest, most of the 1.1 million acres of the forest have been identified by wildlife biologist Kari Bartosiak as lynx habitat.
"Everything we do we're going to have to review," Bartosiak said.
She is working for the Forest Service in Routt County to assess the forest land and map what areas are potential lynx habitat.
"The way we articulate things in the forest plan could change," Bartosiak said.
Denise Germann, spokeswoman for the Forest Service, said that because of the listing, nothing can be done in the forest that would negatively impact the lynx. In her opinion, the biggest effect of protecting the lynx would be on backcountry winter recreationists.
The lynx has large feet, more than twice the size of other predators that are similar to its size. The cat's feet act as snowshoes, allowing the animal to travel on top of the snow and deep into the woods to search for prey where other predators can't go.
But, by packing down trails, snowshoers, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers now make it easier for those other predators to get deep into the forest and compete with the lynx.
"It's something that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and we will look at," Bartosiak said. "But I wouldn't say it's any more of a concern than anything else we're looking at."
For the Forest Service, as well as for animal activist groups, logging is the most serious concern.
In 1998, approximately 32 million board feet of timber came out of the Routt National Forest. That's enough wood to build about 2,150 three-bedroom homes.
"Logging is the most significant threat to the lynx," Sinapu program director Rob Edwards said.
The lynx spends most of its time in densely wooded areas where it can find plenty of cover. Part of the animal's habitat, especially when it's searching for home range, is open fields, but it's primary den habitat is in trees.
To protect that den habitat, some tree sales could be denied, Bartosiak said.
Besides timber management, the lynx's tree habitat impacts wildland fire management and the building of trails and roads.
The Bureau of Land Management also must reevaluate its lands. In Routt County much of that land is used for grazing, but wildlife biologist Roxanne Falise said ranchers who lease BLM-managed property shouldn't be concerned.
"We don't expect grazing to stop," she said.
That's because most of the land that the BLM manages in Routt County consists of scattered parcels on the fringe of the lynx's habitat. "We (the BLM) are mandated to manage for a healthy range land. That's compatible with managing habitat for the lynx," Falise said.
Lynxes are still prevalent in Canada, but are not found in most of the United States. Moreover, there's no connection between the lynx habitat in Colorado and in Canada. That should play an important role in managing the animal, Edwards said. "In the southern Rockies we need to manage it as an island habitat," he said.
Forty-one lynx were reintroduced in Colorado during the late '90s in the Vail area. Of that number, 32 are still living.
But there is a possibility that one or more of the lynx may wander north into the Routt National Forest, Bartosiak said.
There is a healthy population of the cat's primary source of food, the snowshoe hare, as well as red squirrels and other small rodents the lynx is known to dine on.
The lynx also can travel great distances and may walk through the Routt National Forest looking for food and scouting out its home range. One of the cats reintroduced south of Routt County walked all the way to Nebraska looking for food. Another was found in New Mexico.
The Forest Service will have a rough draft of its amendments to the forest plan this summer followed by a 45-day public comment period.
To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org