Colorado's Endangered Species Checklist: Watch 'Em While You Can

August 2008
Your best chance at glimpsing a Canada lynx this summer will be at the airport, where you might spot Larry the Lynx, a Frontier Airlines' mascot, painted on the tails of the company's planes. The wild cats are very elusive, but they're also a federally threatened species, which have only gotten tough love, at best, from the White House. With Bush's days winding down, the president is ready to do what Congress wouldn't during his tenure: ease the rules of the Endangered Species Act. In the eight-year-long war on the wildlife-protection law, Colorado has been a major battleground. Here's a rundown of some the state's imperiled species, and how things have gone from bad to worse during the last eight years. Canada lynx returned to Colorado in 1999, thanks to a state reestablishment program. A small population has grown slowly. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has previously consulted with the U.S. Forest Service to ensure new development around the Vail Pass area would consider the cats' habitat needs and migration patterns. But an August 11 regulatory rollback, announced by Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, could mean future development won't account for lynx. The proposed major changes to the Endangered Species Act would allow government agencies to decide on their own whether they required such scientific consultations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists on projects, including highways and subdivisions. Such mandatory consultations have been part of the ESA process since the law passed in 1973. The Gunnison Sage-grouse is another victim of a lame-duck directive. The bird, which occurs in southern and western Colorado rangelands, is considered at risk in the state, meaning it's nearing threatened status. That designation won't count for much under a U.S. Bureau of Land Management rule change, proposed this June. The rollback would allow the agency to ignore states' "special-status" concerns, which could accelerate the decline of species on the brink. "It's another example of the Bush administration's outright scorn for science," says Josh Pollock, interim executive director of the Boulder-based Center for Native Ecosystems. Along with the Gunnison grouse, the Preble's meadow jumping mouse and the Gunnison's prairie dog have already suffered from the political whims of the White House. As revealed in late 2006, Julie MacDonald, an appointed Interior official with no background in biology, ordered scientists to alter reports and deny federal protections for species under consideration for ESA listing. Colorado's wildlife, in particular, got caught in the political crossfire. The grouse, mouse, and prairie dog all received fewer protections based on MacDonald's interference. She also influenced rulings on designations of so-called critical habitat for lynx and boreal toads, another state resident. (MacDonald's finagling came to light in late 2006; she resigned in April 2007 and several agency decisions have since been revisited). Pollock anticipates more eleventh-hour rule changes against endangered species before Bush flies the coop. "These guys are choosing the most damaging changes that have never passed the smell test in Congress," Pollock says. Meanwhile, wildlife-watching Coloradans might have to settle for appreciating rare birds and wildlife from the DIA tarmac.