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Back in 2000, and after significant reluctance by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canada lynx was finally listed as a threatened species (see HUPC Review and LYNX 10/98, 12/98, 4/00, 2/02, 4/02, 4/04 for additional Canada lynx discussions.) To that end, for example, the Forest Service began the process of identifying lynx management areas where guidance resulting from the listing process would direct management activities. This was to occur on all forests with lynx habitat whether occupied or not. Lynx are top level and wide ranging predators that routinely disperse great distances. While lynx have not been located by researchers, yet, in the Uintas or anywhere else in Utah (there have been isolated migrations from “collared” lynx in Colorado exploring portions of Utah), it is widely recognized that lynx did inhabit the Uintas, in particular, and have been seen clearly distinguished from the more common bobcat by Uintas travelers off and on for years.

mountainside by M. PettisWhile forest plans were to implement the lynx conservation strategy, guidance was formally provided, until all forest plans are completed and updated (a daunting task) by way of the March 2007 Northern Rockies Lynx Management Direction Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS.)

Until that decision came out, for example, the Wasatch-Cache and Ashley National Forests (High Uintas) were part and parcel of this process. Both forests had identified lynx management areas. The FEIS, however, in a most odd, egregious and silly decision, excluded the Wasatch-Cache portion of the High Uintas (much of the North Slope and western end--the Lakes Roadless area including the Weber and Provo River drainages) from consideration for any lynx protection.

The Ashley National Forest portion of the Uintas was included with the boundary drawn on the crest of the wild, designated wilderness and roadless areas as though lynx deserve protection on one side of a one foot wide line and not the other though not a single context of landscape, ecological value or wildness changes. It is continuous and contiguous habitat extending for hundreds of thousands of acres in wilderness and roadless areas no different than their counterpart on the Ashley, separated not by a road or private property of a notably different kind of habitat, only by the crest of the Uinta Mountains and some silly bureaucratic turf-based national forest kingdom building back at the turn of the century and now made a barrier to lynx conservation by the signature of Jack Troyer, the Intermountain Regional Forester, who should know better!

An argument can be made that some areas on Utah national forests are too disjunct, too fragmented, surrounded in close proximity to major roads, private property, urban settings. But the Uintas represent over 1,000 square miles of mountainous and undeveloped terrain, not half the Uintas, the whole Uintas.

Furthermore, is that possible? The FEIS only requires the Forest Service to apply the conservation strategy on occupied habitat, assuring, in that case, unoccupied habitat will likely never be occupied since the conservation strategy will not be applied!

It is just one more example of how far the Forest Service continues to slide and spin into nonsense.

Editor’s Notes:
** Late in June, after the above referenced EIS had been released, the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service decided to review a number of FSW decisions that were influenced not by scientific data but raw politics under the former Deputy Assistant Director Julie MacDonald, now resigned and under investigation. One of those decisions deals with lynx and the determination of critical habitat and the very question of what determines occupied National Forest habitat. The FWS has determined that the definition of occupied habitat was far too narrow and ignored the wide ranging nature of lynx, the difficulty of detecting lynx, and the lack of data and studies over large portions of available habitat. A hopeful sign!

** On a related issue, during the fall of 2003 the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a finding that the petition to designate the wolverine as a threatened or endangered species was not warranted. In late 2006 District Court, District of Montana, decided the FWS ruling was improper and ordered the FWS to make a 12 month finding on the status of the wolverine. That process was extended and the FWS is currently undergoing a required 12 month review of the wolverine to determine whether, indeed, the species is in peril. Again, wolverine were native to the Uintas and, in fact, although no formal studies have shown its occurrence, evidence suggests wolverine are still in the Uintas with qualified and capable sightings clearly not confusing badgers, bear or marmots.

Dick Carter

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