Forest Use Could be Limited in Lynx Habitat

Forest Use Could be Limited in Lynx Habitat

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- It is not known whether any Canada lynx still live in the higher elevations of northeastern Utah, but a proposal, due out in August, could place restrictions on logging and recreational use of the areas.

The proposals could limit where snowmobiles and backcountry skiers can go in Daggett, Duchesne, Uintah and Carbon counties on lands managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

"It makes sense to protect the potential to have lynx," said Kathy Paulin, acting forest planner on the Ashley National Forest. She was quoted in a copyright article in The Salt Lake Tribune.

The restrictions could make it easier for the Canada lynx, which are classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, to return to Utah naturally if they haven't already.

"It's really hard to prove a negative," Paulin said. "If they are here, there aren't very many of them. The most we can say is that they aren't very abundant."

The proposal has drawn angry opposition from some groups.

"It's a classic prostitution of the Endangered Species Act," said Don Peay, director of the nonprofit group Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. "It's a big joke."

Lynx were hunted and trapped in northern Utah until 1972, which was the last confirmed sighting in the Uintas. There has not been a confirmed sighting anywhere in the state since 1991.

The Canada lynx's large paws allow it to hunt in soft, deep snow where smaller-pawed predators, such as bobcats and mountain lions, have trouble hunting.

Packed snowmobile and ski trails create an avenue for other predators to compete with the lynx for resources at higher elevations.

Limiting these winter pursuits would hurt business in northeast Utah, said Randy Beers, owner of Beers Harley Davidson and the Vernal Sports Center.

"The snowmobile business has always been a rough business," due to the limited number of trails, Beers said.

"If they want any hope to make this a destination in the future, they are going to have to expand the trail system," he said. "Winter sports in our area are about the only chance this community has on a little bit of money in the wintertime."

Protecting lynx habitat also means protecting snowshoe hare habitat -- a major food source for the lynx. And that could mean changing how timber is harvested.

Logging companies prefer to thin dense stands of lodgepole pine when they less than 15 years old, enabling the remaining trees to grow bigger faster.

Forest management changes could require waiting to thin the trees until snowshoe rabbits are no longer able to reach the lowest branches -- as many as 30 years.

Such delays will hurt an endangered industry, says Craig Collett, Daggett County commissioner.

The logging restrictions may help the lynx, but they will hurt people, Collett said. "What's it going to do to the people who have lived there all their lives?"

In neighboring Uintah County, the timber industry is facing similar difficulties. "Logging and timber is almost down to nothing on the Ashley National Forest, and this could kill it," said Jim Abegglen, county commissioner in Uintah County. "There has got to be room for humans in here someplace."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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