Comments of Scott Jones, Esq.
The motorized recreational community supports species management and a healthy and vibrant ecosystem where species thrive as this is woven into the recreation experience the motorized user often seeks. The Endangered Species Act has simply not kept up with changing times and too often the multiple use recreational interests are guilty until proven innocent for ESA purposes. Even when recreational usages have been proven innocent, reducing management restrictions or delisting is simply not a viable option in our experience. Far too frequently Endangered Species concerns are raised by those that simply don’t like the conclusion of a NEPA planning process and the ESA is seen as a vehicle to address those issues. Management closures to recreational access are often not related to science but rather a desire of land managers to appear to do something in response to a species based concerns and avoid litigation. In our experiences, listing of many species is based on a lack of science and when science is developed the ESA remains a barrier to multiple use.
After listing simply implementing change in species management is difficult as exemplified by our experiences with lynx management in Colorado. In 1997 Colorado Parks and Wildlife reintroduced the Canadian lynx in Colorado with a goal of a sustainable population of around 200 cats. A year later the lynx was listed as threatened by the USFWS and initial analysis of lynx issues found a lack of science on most management concerns including recreation and management was highly speculative. Snow compaction was cited as a major concern around recreational activity in the winter and a major contributing factor to the decline of the species. The reintroduction of the lynx was declared a success in 2010 based on numerous goals and objectives being achieved, such as population now being in excess of 250 cats. Delisting has not been successful due to the fact the 2001 listing did not identify distinct population segments, but rather than the species as a whole and delisting just Colorado lynx would be classified as a distinct population segment. These types of barriers should not override the fact the species had fully recovered in Colorado.
Since the initial lynx conservation assessment, significant research has been undertaken and found that dispersed lower intensity recreational usages were not a priority threat to the lynx and much of this was supported by the motorized community. These conclusions were formalized with an updated Conservation assessment and strategy in 2013. Even basic implementation of this document has proven almost impossible in the second round of forest planning that is now being undertaken. Despite recognition in the LCAS that not all lynx habitat is the same in terms of quality and snow compaction is a natural process in the southern Rockies, we continue to see snow compaction remaining a management priority and all habitat being managed under a single standard.
Unfortunately, examples were recreational access is closed due to questionable science are all too common. After the USFS was sued regarding the Captain Jacks trail system outside Colorado Springs that was adjacent to Bear Creek that had genetically pure trout, the trail network was closed. This story has a happy ending as we were able to reopen trails outside the watershed after several years of effort but the issue for us is the fact that the primary threat to genetically pure trout is the almost 1 BILLION fish that have been reintroduced into waterways that simply outperform the native species in every way. Will closing trails address this conflict? We doubt it but closing trails is often the first line of defense for habitat and often coalitions like the Captain Jacks efforts are difficult to replicate.
While there are success stories where recreational access is returned to an area after concerns about ESA habitat are raised often this process is long and expensive and too often access is not returned. Those examples are simply too extensive to discuss with any detail. Based on our experiences the Endangered Species Act is simply out of date. We believe the proposed changes would be a significant step towards updating the Act and providing management that creates more benefit to the species and is more cost-effective.