Climate Change, Wilderness Integrity, and Wildlife Habitat/Survival

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” … the highest level of protection humans can
bestow on land: the Wilderness Act.”
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Arizona Republic
Mar. 8, 2008

<http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/opinions/articles/0308satlets2-084.html>

Wilderness Act a big boon to nature

Your article on hunting and climate change
touched on some critical dialogue occurring right
now among biologists around the globe (Hunters,
anglers join global-warming outcry, Feb. 21).

Many in my field are wondering how to mitigate
the rapid effects of a warming climate on species
for which there is still time to “help.” Do we
rescue them now with a concept called “assisted
migration,” which allows scientists to move
species to a more amenable climate?

Or do we simply let human-induced changes take their course on Mother Nature?

We have a conservation tool at our disposal that
provides our public lands – many of which hunters
and anglers hold dear – with the highest level of
protection humans can bestow on land: the
Wilderness Act.

By preserving tracts of at least 5,000 acres,
wilderness designation encourages maintenance of
critical ecosystem processes that will help
species survive under the duress of global
climate change, including the warming of the
planet that likely will prove lethal to our own
species.

Designated wilderness prevents the intrusion of
humans with motorized toys and therefore prevents
unnecessary roads; thus, wilderness designation
preserves a strong natural barrier against
non-native species while also offering wildlife a
sanctuary from biological pressures such as
disease, habitat loss and inbreeding.

Roads and other disruptions to core wild areas
are among the greatest causes of species
extinctions because they impair migration, reduce
species reproductive rates and diminish the
availability of forage, prey, and water sources.

While the consequences of global climate change
are grim and undeniable, the Wilderness Act gives
us an option that, if used prudently, can help
mitigate the worst effects of it on many species
of wild organisms. The Wilderness Act allows our
species to leave a positive legacy for the myriad
species with which we share the planet. – Guy R.
McPherson,Tucson

The writer is a professor at the University of
Arizona, School of Natural Resources and
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

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“Their goal is to understand lynx habitat use,
litter size, mortality, foraging and other
issues, including the impact of climate change,
road building and suburban development.”

“The study’s results suggest that mechanically
thinning old forests and clearing away deadfall –
rather than maintaining a mosaic of natural
conditions – creates poor habitat for lynx, a
threatened species, and their primary prey,
snowshoe hares. ”
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Missoulian
March 9, 2008

Lynx prefer dense forests over sparse landscape, study finds
By JOHN CRAMER of the Missoulian

In the largest study of Canada lynx in the Lower
48 states, researchers in western Montana have
found that the rare cat prefers to make its dens
under downed logs deep within mature, dense
forests.

Earlier research in Canada focused on the
structure of lynx dens, but the new study
explored the landscape surrounding dens in the
contiguous United States, where scientists are in
the early stages of understanding the elusive
feline.

The study’s results suggest that mechanically
thinning old forests and clearing away deadfall –
rather than maintaining a mosaic of natural
conditions – creates poor habitat for lynx, a
threatened species, and their primary prey,
snowshoe hares.

The results come at a time when federal wildlife
managers have proposed to dramatically expand the
amount of critical habitat for lynx, which were
listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2000
in the Lower 48 states.

The proposed critical habitat is in Montana,
Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Washington state and
Wyoming.

“There are huge gaps in our knowledge about this
species, so our research is seeking solutions on
how to manage them,” said John Squires, the
study’s lead author and a research wildlife
biologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky
Mountain Research Station in Missoula.

Lynx, carnivores distinguished by their tufted
ears, luxurious fur and ability to travel atop
deep snow, are common in Canada’s and Alaska’s
high-elevation boreal forests where wintry
backcountry and snowshoe hares are plentiful.

In the contiguous United States, two dozen
northern states have historical records of lynx,
but the cat’s shy nature has prevented biologists
from making historic and current population
estimates.

Researchers attribute the scarcity of lynx in the
Lower 48 states, in part, to overtrapping and the
scarcity of good snowshoe hare habitat – and thus
fewer hares – in the cat’s natural niche in
snowy, mountainous backcountry.

Lynx also are naturally sparse even with plenty
of prey, staking out large territories and
defending them with vigor.

Lynx have been studied extensively in Canada and
Alaska, but comprehensive research in the
contiguous U.S., where habitat can differ
markedly, started only a decade ago with the
creation of the National Lynx Survey.

The survey is coordinated by the Rocky Mountain Research Station.

At the time, federal lynx policy was determined
by a handful of dens in Washington and Wyoming
that were the only confirmed rearing sites in the
Lower 48 states.

Since 1998, Research Station biologists have
monitored 135 lynx with radio and global
positioning system collars, DNA testing of hair,
blood and tissue samples, computer modeling and
other means.

Their goal is to understand lynx habitat use,
litter size, mortality, foraging and other
issues, including the impact of climate change,
road building and suburban development.

In the current study, researchers followed 19
female lynx that used 57 dens on public and
private lands in mountain ranges in western
Montana between 1999 and 2006.

The researchers counted the kittens, took genetic
samples, and documented the dens’ locations and
characteristics.

They analyzed the surrounding areas, spreading
outward about one mile, looking at ground cover,
snowshoe hare populations, the proximity of
roads, elevation and other factors.

“They’re all pieces of the puzzle,” said Nicholas
DeCesare, a University of Montana graduate
student and a co-author of the study, which is to
be published in the Journal of Wildlife
Management.

Results show that

93 percent of the lynx made their dens under
piled logs in drainage basins within dense,
mature spruce-fir forests that hadn’t been logged.

A few dens were at the forest’s edge, but they
also were protected by logs and dense cover.

Forests that were naturally sparse or had been
mechanically thinned were seldom used for denning.

“When you look at the whole gestalt of what’s
confronting this species, a shortage of denning
sites isn’t the issue,” Squires said.

In Canada, lynx and hare populations rise and
fall together, but that cyclical relationship is
not evident in the Lower 48 states, where both
species are consistently sparse.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed
designating 42,753 square miles in six states as
critical lynx habitat, up from 1,841 square miles
in three states that the agency designated in
2006.

The agency revised its earlier decisions about
lynx and seven other species after allegations
that Julie MacDonald, a deputy assistant
secretary of Interior, interfered with
biologists’ decisions.

The critical habitat designation would not
automatically prohibit logging or other land
management activities on federal lands, but it
would ban activities that adversely affect
landscape conditions needed by lynx.

Private land use would only be affected when it
involved a federal permit or federal funds.

Copyright © 2008 Missoulian

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