LYNX HABITAT PROTECTED?
The Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed additional critical habitat for lynx conservation under the Endangered Species Act (see HUPC LYNX, 8/07). Just about 43,000 square miles of new revised critical habitat was identified in northwestern Washington, northern Montana, the greater Yellowstone area (including Wyoming’s Salt River Range), northern Minnesota and Maine. Vastly improved over the previous effort!
But it still falls confusingly short in that critical habitat need not be constrained to areas only occupied at the time of species designation. In this case the proposed rule ignores both the Colorado Rockies, where lynx have now occupied and reproduced successfully for a number of years with the area acting already as a potential source for lynx migration (Wildlife Research Report, Post Release Monitoring of Lynx Reintroduced to Colorado, 7/07), and the High Uintas. This same study clearly documents a large number of sightings of lynx within the High Uintas, an area consisting of the 460,000 High Uintas Wilderness surrounded by that much high quality identified roadless country. These sightings have consistently increased over the last few years and there is no dispute that the
The point is the Uintas are a massive core area with deeply suitable lynx habitat, historically inhabited by lynx and connected to the Greater Yellowstone complex (A Biological Conservation Assessment for the Utah-Wyoming Rocky Mountains Ecoregion; Report to the Nature Conservancy. Noss, et al. 2001,) The habitat similarity of the Uintas to the proposed critical habitat of the southern extent of the Greater Yellowstone area is more than notable! The Uintas are a natural geographical extension to this area and obviously geographically connected.
Given the recognized, long-range dispersal of lynx and its importance to population dynamics and the obvious compression of lynx habitat, along with the ever-increasing negative impacts within that compressed habitat, it seems more than prudent that all large core habitat areas be protected as critical habitat, particularly given the additional stress of climatic change. It seems only fitting, given the obvious scale and size of the Uintas and its connection to the Greater Yellowstone area and Southern Rockies, that the Uintas would be part of the critical habitat rule.
There is no point in attempting to continue to use the Endangered Species Act as the tool to delimit critical habitat to a species that is fundamentally wide-ranging, dependent upon vastly distant dispersal areas and the corridors connecting such areas. The context of the Endangered Species Act is to achieve precisely this goal.