Programmatic Consultation Agreement for Canada Lynx in Colorado
Part 1 Summary
The Programmatic Consultation Agreement for impacts to Canada Lynx, detailed in the following document, applies to the Colorado Division of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Colorado Department ofTransportation (COOl) projects within suitable lynx habitat with discountable or insignificant impacts that are below the threshold ofadverse effects, as defined by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA).
Projects which meet the no effect and not likely to adversely affect (NLAA) criteria set forth in this document will be covered by a blanket concurrence letter issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and will not requirt? 1inther consultation. Projects that do not meet the criteria will require an individual section 7 consultation unless they are covered by a future programmatic agreement. The following document defines agency responsibilities and agreements in sufficient detail so that COOT actions not requiring :finther section 7 consultation can be identified and expedited. For all projects, impact level is detelmined by following the procedure outlined in Appendix A ofthis docmnent, and by using the Lynx Impact Determination Guidelines (LIDG) presented in Appendix B ofthis docmnent to guide the process.
Part 2 Introduction
InMarch 2000 the contiguous United States population ofthe Canada lynx (lynx; Lynx canadensis) was listed as threatened under the Endangered species Act Section 7(a)(2) ofthe ESA requires Federal agencies to evaluate the impact oftheir actions on threatened or endangered species, and ensure such actions are "not likely to jeopardize the continued existence ofany endangered or threatened species or tesuIt in the destruction or adverse modification of (its) habitat." Additionally, section 7(aXI) charges and authorizes federal agencies to conserve endangered species. Therefore, an agency's actions should benefit species whenever practicable, and shouJd always seek to avoid negative effects.
To this end, COOT, FHW A, and FWS enter into this programmatic agreement to guide impact assessment ofCDOT projects that may affect lynx by providing standard guidelines (Appendix B) and a standardized procedure (Appendix A). These guidelines and procedures are intended for use by COOT biologists finnjliar with lynx, and/or their consultants, to guide them to appropriate impact detenninations.1mpact level de~ionsfqllow the section 7 handbook, and are listed in Appendix C ofthis document.
For projects that are determined either to have "no effect" or are "not likely to adversely affect (NLAA)", formal section 7 consultation is not required. Instead, FWS will issue a letter of concurrence in response to this agreement document. This concurrence letter will provide a blanket clearance for all projects that meet the "no effect" and NLAA screen criteria. When impacts are determined "likely to adversely affect" lynx using the procedure, they will be treated under an individual section 7 consultation or other agreements to be developed in the future.
CDOT, FHWA, and FWS agree that the Canada Lynx Science Report (Ruggerio et al. 1999)~ local site-specific information, information about highway impacts to lynx contained in the LIDO (Appendix B) and the Lynx Conservation Assessment Strategy (LCAS; Ruediger et at 2000) will be used as the foundation to conduct assessments. Additionally, lynx habitat and Lynx Analysis Units (LAUs) have been delineated for each National Forest in Colorado using the best information available. 'fhese maps can also be used to provide background for the analysis. However, both mapping criteria and the best available scientific information regarding lynx are likely to evolve as we gain a better understanding oflynx behavior and habitat use through ongoing studies in Colorado~ Wyoming, and Montana. The most up-to-date information must always be considered and incorporated into the assessment process. Additionally, deficiencies relating to the most up-to-date information must be acknowledged.
Part 3 Interagency Agreement
The signatory agencies are FWS, CDOT, and the Colorado Division ofthe FHWA Agreements with land management agencies, the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, who administer property adjacent to the CDOT ROWs, will be pursued separately.
The signatory agencies agree that thejointly developed project evaluation process descnOed in Appendix A provides for efficient and consistent assessment of CDOT projects and activities in a manner that is in compliance with section 7 and biologically defensible. The project screen tool assists biologists in sorting projects into the following three agreed upon categories:
- "No effect" determinations, covered under the programmatic concurrence
- "Not likely to adversely affect" determinations covered under the programmatic concurrence.
- Projects not meeting FWS conditions for coverage under this programmatic concurrence, and require separate consultation.
Category 1 includes projects that a biologist familiar with I~using the project screen, deterinines to have "no effect" on lynx. Unless the project requires some type ofadditional documentation, as for an EIS, no written concurrence from FWS is required. However, the attached forms (Appendix A) must be completed and filed to document the determination for use to defend the determination ifnecessaIy.
Category 2 includes those projects that are NLAA lynx. Projects for which a biologist fiuniHar with lynx has made a NLAA determination using the project decision process are covered under the FWS's programmatic concmrence letter as lOng as all FWS conditions and stipulations for the applicatio:Q. oltbat concurrence are met in:fuD. Application ofthe letter ofprogrammatic concurrence from the FWS only applies to actions that have either discountable or insignificant impacts (as defined in the section 7 handbook) 10 lynx.
Category 3 includes projects for which the project decision screen leads a biologist mmi1iar with lynx to conclude the action may have an adverse effect and is therefOre outside the conditions established by the FWS for an advance concurrence. Projects determined to have an adverse effect will be treated under a formal individual section 7 consultation or through future streamlining options identified and agreed upon by COOT and FWS. Alternatively, projects with potential adverse impacts to lynx may be modified to reduce impacts to below the "not likely to adversely affect" threshold to meet the requirements ofcategory I or 2.
The signatory agencies finther agree that:
- A biologist familiar with lynx will carry out the impact determination process.
- The CDOT T&E Coordinator has the signatory authority t determination produced through this process.
- Projects screened to category I will be covered by the blanket concmrence letter issued by FWS in accordance with this agreement and require no further action. Standard forms included in this agreement will be used to document the finding.
- Projects screened to category 2 will also be covered by the blanket concurrence but will require preparation ofbiological documentation as well as the standard forms to document the finding.
- Clearances issued through this process are good indefinitely unless site conditions and/or species knowledge change. Additionally, project descriptions that change significantly after a clearance is issued are no longer covered under that clearance and must be re-evaluated.
- The impact determination process will initially be audited six months after implementation, then annually thereafter, to ensure compliance.
- A spreadsheet-style quarterly report summarizing the projects covered by this agreement during the audit period will also be produced and submitted by CDOT to the Colorado Field Supervisor at FWS.
- Results ofthe impact determination process will be audited annually by a mutually agreed upon independent reviewer, and CDOT will provide a report ofthis audit to the Colorado Field Office ofFWS within one month of the review date.
- The agreement will remain in effect for one year, and both agencies must agree by July 1 (beginning of CDOT's fiscal year) if they wish to extend the agreement for an additional year.
- This agreement can be suspended or terminated at any time, upon a 30-day notice ftom any ofthe signatory agencies.
The Impact Determination Process,
and Recording Forms
Part 1: The Process
The steps that the evaluator must follow to certify that a project has met the criteria for this programmatic agreement, and will not require a formal section 7 consultation with FWS, are as follows. Successful completion of the impact determination process requires the exercise of professional judgment by a biologist familiar with lynx.
- Obtain a full description ofthe proposed project.
- Pre-fieldwork preparation. Ifthis portion ofthe analysis indicates the project will not occur in lynx habitat, a site visit is not required.
- Obtain the topographic maps for action area.
- Study the featmes ofthe action area:toeate drainages, forested linkages, centers ofhuman activity, and other features which may be important to lynx use ofthe project area.
- Locate the project site in the Jandscape. Determine ifthe project area is a potential link between landscape scale features that are important to lynx.
- Analyze appropriate supporting materials about the area, e.g., US Forest Service Lynx habitat maps, current reports about the status of lynx in Colorado, current roadway use statistics, etc.
- Site visit, as needed.
- Fill out Evaluation Form (see below) to document your analysis.
- Use the background information about highway impacts to lynx provided in the following lynx impact determination guidelines (LIDO) in combination with your pie-field preparation and site visit observations to determine impacts.
- Fill out the Impact Determination Form (see below) and document your impact determination findings.
- Sign the Impact Determination Form and submit form to the CDOT T&E Coordinator for approval and signature.
- Place an Impact Detennination Form and all supporting paperwork on file with the COOT T&E Coordinator for :future reference as needed. The COOT T&E coordinator will enter appropriate information into a spreadsheet-style database to use for quarterly reports submitted to FWS.
Part 2: Required Documentation
Projects that receive a "no effect" determination are documented with the standard forms provided below. The file for these projects must also include photos of the project site showing muhiple views. No further documentation is required.
Projects that receive a NLAA determination require a biological evaluation as well as the standard forms and photographs for complete documentation. The biological evaluation should be concise and may consist of a bulleted narrative. As set forth in the evaluation forms below, the biological evaluation must contain a complete description of the project, baseline conditions at the project site, potential direct, indirect, and cmnulative project-re1ated impacts, and a justification for the conclusion of NLAA.
Part 3: The Forms
The following forms are for use during the evaluation and sign-off procedure detailed in the Impact Determination Guidelines. Supporting information comes from both the pre-field evaluation and the site visit.
|LYNX IMPACT EVALUATION FORM|
|Site Visit? Yes:
The following checklists should be used to guide your evaluation. Attach as many sheets as needed to describe each item in the list, or include these descriptions in the BA, if applicable. Please note data sources used (map, data base, site visit, etc).
1. Baseline Condition
____ Vegetation types, age, density, structure
____ Distance to potential denning/foraging habitat
____ Habitat linkages (e.g., ridges, drainages, saddles, suitable cover)
____ Type, quality of woody cover adjacent to road
____ Elevation, slope, aspect
____ Commercial, residential development
____ Recreational use
____ Private/public land, management prescription
____ Secondary roads adjacent to project area, overnll road density in project area
____ Other current or ongoing projects
Existing Roadway Impacts
____ Existing road width number of lanes, presence and width of shoulders
____ Traffic volume/speedldally and seasonal patterns
____ Existing vertical barriers (cut slopes, walls, jersey barrier, fence, etc.)
____ Culverts/bridges (size, location)
____ Known roadkill rates
____ Overall existing roadway impact
Potential Impacts of Pooposed Project
____ Loss of cover by type
____ Additional roadway width (lanes, shoulders)
____ Vertical barriers created (cut slopes, walls, jersey barrier, fence, etc.)
____ Culverts/bridges (size, location)
____ Bridge or culvert replacement
____ Construction disturbance (timing, season, duration)
____ Maintenance issues
____ Secondary or indirect impacts (e.g. increase in recreation or back country use, induced development, etc.)
____ Cumulative impacts (following Section 7 definitions)
|IMPACT DETERMINATION CHECKLIST|
|Name and Title of Evaluator
|Does the Project:||Yes||No|
|Impinge on a potential lynx movement or dispersal corridor between two blocks of lynx habitat at a local scale?|
|Impinge on a potential lynx movement or dispersal corridor between two blocks of lynx habitat at a landscape scale. or within a Forest Service-identified landscape linkage?|
|Create indirect or cumulative impacts to lynx within the project's action area?|
If No was checked fur all three criteria, the project area is not suitable for lynx and the project will have no impact on lynx. Check off finding below. If Yes was answered for one or more criteria, the project area is potentially suitable for lynx. Proceed to Step 2.
Project will have No Effect _____________
|Is the project area:||Yes||No|
|Heavily influenced by residential tr commercial development?|
|Isolated from other areas of habitat by residential or commercial, development?|
If Yes was checked for one or both criteria, the project area is unsuitable for lynx, and the project will have no impact on lynx Check off finding below. If No was answered for both criteria, proceed to Step 3.
Project will have No Effect _____________
|Will the Project:||Yes||No|
|Result in any increased traffic speed or volume?
Note: Both official (posted) and unofficial increases (driver response to improved driving conditions) in speed should be considered.
|Remove any cover adjacent to the roadway?|
|Increase the barrier effect of the roadway through the addition of walls, width, median barriers, split alignments, etc.?|
|Create any additional indirect impacts adjacent to or away from the roadway?|
If No was checked for all four criteria, the project will not increase the current impact of the existing road, and the project will have no impact on lynx. Check off finding below. If Yes was answered for one or more criteria, the project may impact lynx. Proceed to Step 4 to determine the level of effect.
Project will have No Effect _____________
|Will the project area:||Yes||No|
|Produce only discountable or insignificant effects due to removal of cover adjacent to the roadway?
Consider amount, patch size. and/or configuration of cover removed when this assessment
|Created only a discountable or insignificant increase of the existing cut slopes, walls jersey barriers, fence, etc., barrier effect of the roadway?
Consider the combined effects of all physical barriers (e.g., added walls, median barriers, guard rail, increased width).
If Yes was checked for both criteria, the project will create only insignificant impacts, and may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect, lynx. Check-off finding below. If No was answered for one or more criteria, the project may adversely affect lynx, and is not covered by this minor programmatic agreement.
Project May Affect, but is Not Likely to Adversely Affect Lynx _____________
Briefly summarize your rationale for the final determination. Include a description of existing habitat quality, existing impacts, and any project-related impacts, including direct indirect, and cumulative impacts. Attach the summary to this checklist or include it in the biological evaluation for NLAA projects.
|The undersigned certify that the above finding is complete and correct.|
|CDOT T&E Coordinator:
|Regional Planning & Environmental Manager:
LYNX IMPACT DETERMINATION GUIDELINES
Part 1. Background Materials
A. Ecology of Canada Lynx
The primary range oflynx in North America is the northern boreal forests of Alaska and Canada. Lynx also occur at lower densities in the boreal forests of New England and the Upper Midwest and in montane forests above 1400 meters (3500 feet) in the Cascades of Washington and Oregon as well as in similar habitats in Idaho and Montana. Boreal forest types, generally above 2500 meters (7000 feet) in the mountains of Utah, Wyoming and Colorado represent the southern margin of the lynx's range (Federal Register 1998).
Lynx are a specialized predator, highly adapted to moving in deep snow and preying upon snowshoe hare. Snowshoe bare comprise 52 percent (swmner) to 85 percent (winter) oftbe lynx's diet in northern ranges (McCord and Cordoza 1992). Lynx are primarily solitary, nocturnal, and like all felids, have a reputation for being secretive and avoiding detection by humanS. Lynx den or bed under ledges, trees, deadfa1ls, and in thick evergreen cover and therefore require areas of dense fOrest with plenty of deadmU or shrubby understory, and minima) human disturbance (Koehler and Brittell 1990). However, snowshoe hare, the principal food of lynx, are most abundant in young, second growth forest (Litvaitis et al. 1985). Thus, to meet both security and food requirements, good IyDx habitat consists of a mosaic of forest types joined by travel corridors. Travel corridors are usually fOrested, as lynx are generally reluctant to cross large, open areas (Koehler 1990), and often follow ridges, dnlinages, or cross saddles (WDW 1993).
Depending on the availability of prey, lynx home ranges vary ftom eight to several hundred km2 (Brandt et al. 1976, Mech 1980, Parker et al. 1983). In regions where snowshoe hare numbers cycle, lynx home ranges expand when hare numbers are low and contract when numbers are high. In areas where hare populatiom remain stable and relatively low, lynx home ranges tend to be relatively large (Koehler 1990). To support a viable population of lynx, an area of suitable habitat must contain the home ranges of enough adult lynx to constitute a breeding population, even when home ranges are large. If habitat blocks are small (< 300 km2), good connectivity between habitat blocks is essential Although female home ranges may overJap to some degree; male home ranges show little overJap with females or other males (McCord and Cordoza 1992).
Lynx apparently have a strong preference for forested cover types; 83 percent of historic (1832 present) lynx locations (from trapping records, museum specimens, and track surveys) in the western U.S. are within Rocky Mountain conifer types. Of the remaining locations, 75 percent of those are within 10 Ian offorest cover types (McKelveyet al. 2000). However, use of nontraditional open habitat bas been observed (Lewis, pers. com. 1998, Terra-Berns et al. 1998). Because of their large home ranges and highly mobile habits, lynx living in southern ranges, where forest cover is naturally fragmented due to topography, elevation, and aspect, would regularly encounter and use open habitats. Terra-Berns et al. (1998) recorded many credible reports of lynx trapped or shot in Idaho, in open habitats and riparian zones surrounded by open habitats. Many of the reports coincide with years of high jackrabbit populations in Idaho's shrubsteppe habitats.
Nearly all information on lynx reproduction comes from Alaskan and Canadian populations, where breeding takes place in March, April, and May. The gestation period is about nine weeks, and one to six kittens (average three) are produced per Jitter. Females raise the Jitter alone, and their kittens may accompany them until the following spring. Females breed as yearlings iffood (ie., snowshoe hares) is abundant. Successful Jitters, even among older females, are uncommon when food (bares) is scarce (Fitzgerald et al. 1994).
B. Impacts of Highways on Wildlife in General
There are four broad catergories of impacts that may occur to wildlife as a result of highway projects including 1) habitat fragmentation, 2) habitat loss; 3} direct mortality, and 4) disturbance. Depending on individual project design and the surrounding 1andscape, these four impact types take different forms and may be direct or indirect.
Habitat Fragmentation: Roads fragment habitats when they create a physical or behavioral barrier to animal movement. This barrier effect occurs when animals avoid habitat near roads, or are physically unable to cross a road so that they are cut off from access to important habitat. Thus, blocks of usable habitat are separated into smaller pieces, potentially affecting the viability of animals dependent on large areas of habitat or requiring access to habitat no longer accessible.
The apparent degree to which a barrier contributes to habitat fragmentation is scale-dependent. For example, at a local scale, if a road passes through habitat that is not preferred by a species, there would appear to be no barrier effect. However, if that area lies between two areas of preferred habitat, the road may act as a barrier at the landscape scale. An animal's perspective also dictates the magnitude of barrier effects. While deer probably cross a roadway 80 feet in width easily, it may be an insurmountable barrier for small mammals or species that are behaviorally averse to entering open areas.
No quantitative data exist regarding how a road~s design regulates its barrier effect. However, it is logical to assume that the potential for barrier effects increases for all species with increased width and the addition of retaining walls, fences, raised medians, guard rails, and significant increases in volume and/or speed of traffic.
Habitat Loss: Direct habitat loss occurs when the project footprint removes natural cover. In addition to effects that result from a simple loss of cover, the impact of habitat loss depends on the overall availability of a habitat type in the project area and its role in an animal's life cycle.
Loss of abundant habitat types may be relatively inconsequential; loss of a rare habitat type will have a greater impact, especially if it provides an essential resource for a species (e.g., nesting/denning sites, important food sources). Other impacts, such as disturbance or ftagmentation, may cause habitat loss indirectly by restricting access to habitat areas. Mechanisms of indirect habitat loss are often subtle, and it is important to consider all possibilities when screening a project for potential effects.
Direct Mortality: Wildlife/vehicle collisions nearly always result in death for the animal in question, and pose a safety hazard to the human occupants of the vehicle. Few quantitative data exist pertaining to which factors regulate rates of animal/vehicle collisions. However, a recent study conducted in Yellowstone National Park indicated that road improvements were correlated with increased collision rates, probably because motorists tended to drive fuster on the widened, straightened roads, regardless ofposted speeds (Gunter et al. 1998). Additionally, road improvements, such as greater roadway widths, guard rails, raised medians, and large retaining walls increase the difficulty of crossing highways for wildlife, require crossing animals to spend more time on the roadway, and may trap animals on the roadway. These effects also increase the likelihood of collisions.
Disturbance: Disturbance results from many sources, including construction, day-to-day road operations,and increased human access to the area as a result of road improvements. Possible impacts of disturbance include direct mortality, temporary avoidance of an area, and permanent abandonment of the surrounding habitat. All these impacts may potentially interrupt activities (e.g., feeding, breeding, travel) essential to survival at both an individual and a species level Disturbance may contribute to both habitat loss and fragmentation.
The impacts of construction-related disturbance area a function of the species' susceptibility to disturbance, duration of the disturbance, area affected, type of disturbance (e.g., heavy equipment noise versus blasting noise), season, and time of day. Disturbances that last a long time, are loud, unpredictable, and/or affect large areas will be the most detrimental
Day-to-day road operations have been shown to cause permanent disturbance effects in some species. Many species are known to avoid areas of disturbance, thereby reducing or eliminating the habitat value of these areas. Disturbance effects from highway operations include noise, visual stimuli, human activity, and pollution. Research (van der Zande et al. 1980, Reijnen et al. 1995, Reijnen et al. 1996) indicates that breeding bird densities are reduced near roads, with the effect being greater for heavy traffic (ca. 50,000 carslday) and reaching further in open habitats (up to 2000 meters) as compared with forested habitats (up to 1500 meters). In Colorado, both deer and elk were shown to avoid areas within 200 meters of a road, with this effect appearing stronger in shrub cover types as compared with forested habitats(Rost and Baily 1979). Studies also indicate that a variety of carnivores, including grizzly bears (McLellan and Sbacldeton 1988), wolves (Thiel 1985, Mech et al. 1988) and bobcats (Lovallo and Anderson 1996) avoid habitats adjacent to roads. Permanent disturbance effects can contribute to both habitat loss and fragmentation. The significance of these effects will depend on the importance of the affected habitat to a species' life function.
Road projects also often provide increased human access to previously unused areas. Increased human activity can severely reduce or eliminate the habitat value of an area for many species by eliciting an avoidance response. Shy species are particularly susceptible to this impact. Increased human presence can contribute to both habitat loss and fragmentation. The significance of these effects will depend on the importance of the affected habitat to a species' life function.
C. Documented Impacts of Highways on Lyux
In both North America and Europe, roadkills have been noted as a substantial cause of mortality in lynx populations associated with large human populations (Mech 1980, Ferrares 1992, Breitenmoser 1993, Weaver pelS. com. 1993). The impact of highway-re1ated mortality on lynx populations is assumed to be negative. Like most carnivores, lynx have relatively small popu1ations and a low reproductive potential Mortality as a result of animal/vehicle collisions is likely to be additive, rather than compensatory for all such species. However, although direct mortality is a potentially significant problem for lynx, the indirect impacts of roads discussed below are likely to have a greater effect on lynx (Aubry et al. 2000). These impacts include habitat fragmentation, increased disturbance, and increased access for competitors.
Increased human use of remote areas that lynx prefer occurs when roads create access to them. Such use degrades and fragments lynx habitat by increasing human disturbance and humancaused mortality. Roads also allow lynx competitors to access previously unavailable babitats. Parker et al. (1983) studied lynx on Cape Breton Island and noted that when construction of a road causeway allowed the immigration of bobcat to the island, the lynx population became restricted to the highlands where greater snow depths gave them a competitive advantage over the comparatively shorter-legged and smaller-pawed bobcats. In Idaho, declines in lynx populations coincided with an increase in roads and trails maintained for winter recreation (Koehler and Aubry 1994). Compacted snow on recreational trails allows lynx competitors (cougar, bobcat, coyote) winter access to areas where deep snow previously prevented access.
Habitat fragmentation created when a road becomes a barrier to movement may be the most severe highway-related impact for all wide ranging mid-sized and large carnivores, including lynx (Ruediger 1996, Buskirk et a1 in USPS 1999). Although few data exist regarding the behavioral response of lynx to roads, the available evidence suggests that their response to larger, paved roads is negative. Stevens et al. (as cited in Gibeau and Heuer 1996) conducted a tracking study along a busy ski area access road and recorded 15 crossings by lynx (no time frame given), half of which entailed at least one aborted attempt before successfully crossing the road. After an aborted attempt, lynx typically retreated to thick roadside vegetation to bed for a period before re-attempting to cross. Apps (pers. com.) notes that radio-collared lynx in his study readily crossed narrow (10 meters wide) roads, but did so only at night when there was no traffic and always chose to cross in locations with dense road side cover. Apps (in USPS 1999) also reports that lynx in his study crossed highways less than expected (X2>139.9, Idtp<O.OOl).
PART 2. FACIORS THAT REGULATE HIGHWAY IMPACT'S TO LYNX
If suitable habitat exists in a project area, or if the area acts as a link between suitable habitat areas, it should be assumed that lynx potentially use the area. Three factors, including habitat quality, existing impacts, and project type, regulate project impact severity on lynx.
A. Quality of Lynx Habitat in Project Area
Suitable lynx habitat encompasses blocks of both feeding and denning habitat and the travel corridors that connect these blocks. Habitat quality is determined by the abundance and juxtaposition of these resources. Because suitable habitat in Colorado is naturally fragmented due to topography and cover type and bas been further fiagmented by human development, secure travel corridors probably play a key role in maintaining population viability. Travel corridors that traverse jackrabbit habitat may also offer important feeding opportunities.
General Habitat Characteristics: Because lynx prefer forest cover types, suitable habitat in ColoIado is generally located above 2500 m in elevation, but below the alpine tundra mne. However, elevation alone is an insufficient indicator of suitable habitat. The following characteristics, regardless of elevation, should be considered when assessing the quality of habitat for lynx. If the project area meets any of the following criteria, further analysis is required to determine its quality for lynx. If the project area does not meet any of these criteria, it is low quality lynx habitat and there may be only a very low probability that lynx will use the area. High quality lynx habitat includes:
- Areas capable of supporting suitable prey, primarily snowshoe hare, but also jackrabbits, cottontails, red squirrels, other smaIl mammals, and blue grouse.
- Areas that contain relatively dense, extensive forest cover types, usually Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, spruce, or spruce/subalpine fir. However, any woody cover type with over 15,000 stems/ha may provide suitable cover for snowshoe hare, and hence for lynx as well. Wooded wetland(l habitats, including riparian corridors, shrubby bottomlands, and willow carrs seem particularly important in Colorado (Shenk, pers. com. 1999).
- Denning habitat (secluded coniferous forest stands at least 0.5-2.0 ha in size) with a high degree of structural diversity on the forest floor (Koehler and Brittelll990).
- Areas that act as travel corridors, linking two blocks of suitable habitat. Travel corridor characteristics are explained in detail below.
Additionally, habitat quality is regulated by its position in the landscape. For example, a block of relatively low quality habitat in terms of resource availability may still be important if it is the only block of habitat along a dispersal corridor, as it may act as a "way station" for lynx moving between more suitable areas.
Travel Corridors: Because lynx are known to travel long distances (<100 kin) in search of food and mates elements from both the local and the landscape scale determine suitability of a travel corridor. Analyses to determine if a project is located within a travel corridor must consider both scales. Foraging habitat is also used as travel cover, but the opposite is not always true. Suitable travel corridors have the following characteristics (after WDW 1993):
- Connects two areas of habitat suitable for foraging and/or deming.
- Often follow ridgelines, drainages or saddles through the landscape.
- Typically has 450 woody stems/ha, greater then 1.8 m in height if no brushy vegetation is present.
- Stem density and height needed may be reduced when significant downed material or shrubby vegetation is present.
- Wooded riparian corridors may provide important travel corridors between habitat blocks and across valley bottoms.
- The importance of corridor width is unknown. Although wider corridors are probably higher in quality, a potential corridor should not be discounted simply because it is narrow.
B. Esisting Roadway-Related Impacts
Existing impacts are determined by type of existing roadway (e.g., county ro~ unimproved two-1ane, four-Jane, etc.), smrounding Jand use, and intensity of both roadway and land use. These existing impacts influence habitat quality and provide a baseline for measuring the magnitude of change that will occur as a result of the project. Existing roadway impacts also play a role in determining habitat quality and vice-versa. Project impacts are evaluated, in part, in relationship to impacts that are currently occurring as a function of the existing roadway in the project area. For example, if the existing roadway already has substantially altered the area, modifying the roadway in some way may add little additional impact.
Evaluating existing impacts may also provide an opportunity to design a proposed project to produce a net benefit to wildlife. Because the ESA directs federal agencies to undertake actions that will contribute to the de-listing of species where practicable, this approach should be taken where possible.
C. Impact Type
For impact assessment purposes, projects may be divided into tlrree broad categories: 1) projects that cause only discountable or insignificant changes to roadway function, barrier effects, and/or remove only discountable or insignificant amounts of cover; 2) projects that cause significant changes in roadway function, barrier eftect, and/or remove significant amounts of cover; and 3) bridge/culvert replacements. The section 7 handbook definitions of the terms "discountable", "insignificant", and "significant" are provided in Appendix C. Project-specific analysis is required to determine the significance of cover removed and changes in roadway function. Impacts are detailed below.
Insignificant Barrier Effect of Road and/or Amount of Cover Removed: Projects in this category do not significantly impact the surrounding habitat, add to the barrier effect of the road, or increase total width of cleared right-of-way (ROW). This category includes minor improvements, such as adding signals, striping, signs, and/or overlays. Additionally, minor construction, such as curve flattening, minor widening, adding shoulders, and access improvements may fall into this category if only discountable or insignificant effects occur as a result of the project. The significance of any changes is a function of both existing conditions and the magnitude of change that occurs as a result of the project. A project-specific biological analysis is needed to determine if changes may be classified as discountable or insignificant.
Any Change in Roadway Function, and/or Signifieant Changes in Barrieer Effect and/or Amount of Cover Removed: Removal of cover is likely to affect lynx because they are sensitive to cover distribution and quality. The impact of widening and alignment adjustments resulting in removal of woody cover will vary from minor to severe, and is largely dictated by existing conditions in the project area. A project-specific analysis considering amount of cover removed as well as the juxtaposition of habitat, and its quality and function at both the local and landscape scale is required to determine the potential effect of the project. Projects which include widening lanes/shoulders, adding shoulders, and minor alignment changes may have minor to severe effects on lynx. Major increases in total roadway width, major alignment shifts, and new construction are likely to have measurable impacts on lynx.
Increases in traffic volume (Roof and Wooding 1996) and speed (Gunter et al 1998) are linked with increases in roadkill rates. Additionally, increased traffic volume and/or speeds increase disturbance to surrounding habitat (vander Zande 1980, Reijnen et al 1995, Reijnen et al. 1996), potentially causing animals to avoid the surrounding areas. Road improvement projects can encomage motorists to drive faster even without a significant change in roadway footprint or removing cover. Therefore, the impact of increased traffic volume and speed must be assessed carefully regardless of the physical impact of the project.
Bridge/Culvert Replacement: Bridge and culvert replacement often include alignment adjustments and consequently some removal of vegetation. However, because properly designed bridges and culverts may offer safe road crossing opportunities for lynx, negative effects of cover removal may be mitigated. Therefore, these projects should be considered separately. There is substantial evidence that wildlife in general, and small- to mid-size carnivores specifically, cross under roads by passing under bridges and through culverts, even when roads are not fenced (Hunt et al 1987, Beier 1995, Yanes et al, 1995, Rodriguez et al 1996, Batnum pers. obs., Leeson pers. com. 1998; Hewitt et al 1998). Because it is believed that larger openings are more attractive to animals in general, any replacement of a bridge or culvert that decreases the size of the opening under the road could reduce safe road crossing opportunities for lynx. Conversely, replacements that result in larger openings could increase safe crossing opportunities, especially if approach cover is maintained or enhanced as part of the project. The impact of these types of projects must be evaluated on a project-specific basis. Properly designed bridges and culverts.may decrease existing negative effects related to the road; especially if they are located along potentially important travel corridors or in blocks of high quality lynx habitat.
PART 3. DETERMINING PROJECT EFFECTS
The text below provides technical information for determining project effects, including guidelines for defining the limits of the action area and for assessing cumulative impacts. Additionally, the types of impacts that may characterize each category of effect are described. Because every project is unique, these impact types should not be regarded as absolute thresholds. Instead, they should be considered in the context of surrounding habitat quality, existing impacts, and overall project design. Successful completion of the determination process requires the exercise of professional judgment by a biologist familiar with lynx.
A. The Action Area
The action area is defined in the ESA as the specific project area and such additional area in which the indirect effects of the project are likely to occur. Indirect effects are defined as those that are caused by or result from the proposed action, are later in time, and are reasonably certain to occur. For example, an increased number of people using an upgraded roadway for recreational access to the surrounding forest would be an indirect effect, and the location of this recreation would define the action area.
B. Cumulative Effects
Cumulative effects include the effects of future State, triba~ lota1, or private actions thatĚ are reasonably certain to occur in the action area. Future Federal actions that are unrelated to the proposed action are not considered in this section because they require separate consultation pursuant to section 7 of the ESA. Potential cumulative effects that should be considered are discussed below.
Activities that destroy or fragment lynx habitat may adversely affect the lynx. Such activities may include livestock grazing, natura1 resource development, recreation, competition and predation as influenced by human activities, highways, and habitat degradation by non-native plant species. A number of these activities could be associated with land use changes occurring in the project area including housing and, potentially, recreationa1 developments. Increased development could result in higher traffic volumes, more noise and pollution, more human activity and a greater number of domestic pets, livestock, and plants. These activities may destroy and fragment lynx habitat, disrupting movement corridors and potentially preventing a lynx from accessing all or a portion of its home range or dispersing across the landscape.
Livestock potentially compete with the snowshoe hare, the lynx's primary prey, for forage. Grazing has been shown to be a factor in the decline or loss of aspens in subalpine forests and of high elevation riparian willow communities (Ruediger et al 2(00). Both these habitat types support not only snowshoe bare but other prey species, as well. Livestock grazing is widespread throughout the lynx range in the Southern Rockies. In naturally fragmented habitats, such as in Colorado, impacts to sagebrush and valley bottoms may also affect connectivity between habitats. Livestock may also attract and create habitat for competing species such as coyotes (Ruediger et al 2(00). It is unlikely that grazing on private lands in the Southern Rockies ecosystem, on its own or in conjunction with other activities, is seriously impacting lynx or their ability to move through the landscape.
Natural resource development, including mining and drilling, creates an often large and permanent change to the landscape and can effectively render a portion of a Jandscape useless to many species of wildlife including lynx. Human activity at mines may be continuous seasonally as well as diumally, and usually involves infrastructure such as roads and outbuildings. Oil and gas exploration generally involves drilling several wells with each well requiring a one-acre pad and connecting roads between the pads. Currently, coalbed methane exploration and development activities are occuring in parts of western Colorado.
Effects of recreational activities on lynx may be influenced by several factors such as the type and quality of habitat in which the activity occurs, time of year of the activity, time of day of the activity, the type of activity, and the pattern, intensity, and frequency of the activity (Ruediger et a1 2000). Anecdotal evidence also indicates that lynx exhibit a wide variety of responses to human activity and may be quite tolerant, possibly depending on the factors listed above. Generally, two types of recreational activities exist: developed and dispersed. Examples of developed recreation include ski areas and four-season resorts, single-season ski areas and resorts, developed nordic ski huts, snowmobile warming huts, and developed campgrounds. Dispersed recreation is more difficult to define but may be associated with hut systems and parking areas. Recreational activities are more concentrated near developed recreation areas and near roads, however, technological improvements to recreational equipment such as bicycle, off-road vehicles, and snowmobiles, are allowing more people to disperse into previously inaccessible back country areas. Hut systems and an increase in developed trails may also contnbute to back country use. Trails created by these activities, especially in the winter, may create travel routes for potential lynx predators and competitors, especially coyotes. Recreation has increased steadily in the past few decades across the United states including the Southern Rocky Mountains, destroying and fragmenting lynx habitat as well as creating access to previously hard-to-get-to areas (Ruediger, et al. 2000). Extreme sports such as snowmobile "high-marking" or back country skiing in areas accessed by snowcat or helicopter are increasing in popularity.
Residential and commercial development is widespread throughout the Southern Rockies ecosystem. These activities clearly directly remove and fragment habitat, increase human activity in the area, sever travel corridors, and potentially introduce domestic pets, livestock, and non-native plant species, and attract lynx competitors. Effects of livestock grazing have already been discussed and the introduction of non-native plant species for crops, livestock, or 1andscaping could have a similar effect on the ecosystem in that they preclude or discourage lynx or their prey from occurring there.
C. Categories ofEffeds
In accordance with the section 7 Consultation Handbook, FWS divides project effects into three categories, defined in Appendix C. The evaluator must determine the precise level of impact, based on unique characteristics of the smrounding habitat, the proposed project, and the best available scientific data regarding lynx in the Southern Rocky Mountains. Factors that determine impact severity need to be considered at both local and landscape scales. Therefore, determining project effects can be a complex process. Effect categories and general characteristics of projects that will fall into those categories are defined by the section 7 Consultation Handbook.
Factors to be considered during the effect-determination process include:
- Amount, type, juxtaposition, and impOrtance of vegetation to be removed
- overall availability of removed habitat type in the project area
- function of removed habitat in the lynx's life cycle (denning, foraging, linkage)
- Land use within and surrounding the project area
- Function of habitat within and surrounding the project area (denning, foraging, linkage)
- Amount and type of change in road function or footprint
- level of existing road impact
- change in width, volume, speed (posted or induced)
- change in daily or seasonal traffic volumes
- disturbance and avoidance caused by day-to-dily operations
- Change in amount, type, and location of physical barriers
- Potential indirect or induced effects
- increased human activity
- increased development
LYNX IMPACT DETERMINATION
GUIDELINES - REFERENCES
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Apps, C. 2000. Space-Use, Diet, Demographics, and Topographic Associations of Lynx in the Southern Canadian Rocky Mountains: A Study. pp. 351-372 in Ruggiero, L. F., K. B. Aubry, S. Buskirk (and others). 2000. Ecology and Conservation of Lynx in the United States. University Press of Colorado, Boulder, CO. 48Op.
Aubry, K., G. Koehler, and J. Squires. 2000. Ecology of Canada Lynx in Southern Boreal Forests. pp. 363-398 in Ruggiero, L. F., K. B. Aubry, S. Buskirk (and others). 2000. Ecology and Conservation of Lynx in the United States. University Press of Colorado, Boulder, CO. 48Op.
Barnum, S. A 1997. Staff Biologist, Colorado Department of Transportation. Personal observation.
Beier, P. 1994. Dispersal of juvenile cougar in fragmented habitat. J. WIldl. Manage. 59:228-237.
Brand, C.J., L.B. Keith, and C.A. Fisher. 1976. Lynx responses to changing snowshoe hare densities in central Alberta. J. Wildl. Manage. 40:416-428.
Breitenmoser, U. and H. Haller. 1993. Patterns of predation by reintroduced European lynx in the Swiss Alps. J. Wildl. Manage. 75:135-144.
Buskirk, S., L. Ruggerio, K. Aubry, D. Pearson, J. Squires, and K. McKelevey. 2000. Comparative Ecology of Lynx in North, America. pp. 397-418 in Ruggiero, L. F., K. B. Aubry, S. Buskirk (and others). 2000. Ecology and Conservation of Lynx in the United States. University Press of Colorado, Boulder, CO. 48Op.
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Fitzgerald, J.P., C.A Meaney, and D.M. Armstrong. 1994. Mammals of Colorado. University Press of Colorado, Niwot, Colorado.
Ferrares, P., J.J. Aldama, J.F. Beltran, and M. Delibes. 1992. Rates and causes of mortality in a fragmented popu1ation oflberian lynx Felis pardina Temminck, 1824. Bio. Conserv. 61:197-202.
Gibeau, M.L. and K. Heuer. 1996. Effects of transportation Corridors on large carnivores in the Bow River Valley, Alberta in Proceedings of the Florida Department of TransportationIFedera1 Highway Administration Transportation-Related Wlldlife Mortality Seminar. G. Evink, D. Ziegler, P. Garrett, and J. Berry, eds.
Gunter et al 1998. Factors influencing the frequency of road-killed wildlife in Ye1lowstone National Park in Proceedings of the International Conference on Wildlife Ecology and Transportation. O. Evink, P. Garrett, D. Ziegler, and J. Berry, eds.
Hewitt, D. 0, A. Cain, V. Tuovila, D. B Shindle, and M.E. Tewes. 1998. ImPacts of an expanded highway on ocelots and bobcats in southern Texas and their preferences for highway crossings in Proceedings of the International Conference on Wildlife Ecology and Transportation. G. Evink, P. Garrett, D. Ziegler, and J. Berry, eds.
Hunt A., H.J Dickens, and R J. Whelan. 1987. Movement of mammals through tunnel under railway lines. Australian Z001 24:89-93.
Koehler, G. M 1990. Population and habitat characteristics oflynx and snowshoe hares in north central Washington. Can. J. Z001. 68:845-851.
Koehler, G.M. and K.B. Aubry. 1994. Lynx, pp. 74-98 in Thescientific Basis for Conserving Forest Carnivores: American Marten, Fisher, Lynx,and Wolverine in the Western United States. U.S.DA Forest Service, Rocky Mt. For. and Range Exp. St., Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-254, Ft. Collins, CO.
Koehler, G. M. and J.D. Britte111990. Managing spruce-fir habitat for lynx and snowshoe hares. J. For. 88:10-14.
Leeson, B.F. 1998. Environmental Assessment Scientist, Parks Canada. Personal communication with S. Barnum, Colorado Department of Transportation. February 20.
Lewis, L. 1998. Biologist, Bureau of Land Management, Lower Snake River District, Idaho. Personal communication with S. Barnum, Colorado Department of Transportation. November 14.
Litvaitis, J.A., JA Sherburne, and J.A. Bissonette. 1985. Intluence of understory characteristics on snowshoe hare habitat use and density. J. Wild1. Manage. 49:866-873.
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Appendix C: FWS Definitions
No effect - no effect to a listed species or designated critical habitat will occur.
May affect, Not likely to advenely affect - the appropriate conclusion when effects on listed species are expected to be discountable, insignificant, or completely beneficial to the species. Beneficial effects are contemporaneous positive effects without any adverse effects to the species. Discountable or insignificant effects relate to the size of the impacts and should never reach the scale where take occurs. Discountable effects are those that are extremely unlikely to occur. Based on best judgment, a person would not (1) be able to meaningfully measure, detect, or evaluate discountable or insignificant effects; or (2) expect discountable effect to occur.
May affect, Likely to adversely affect - if any adverse effect to listed species, at the individual or the population level, may occur as a direct or indirect result of the proposed action or its interrelated or interdependent actions, and the effect is not: discountable, discountable or insignificant, or beneficial. In the event the overall effect of the proposed action is beneficial to the listed species, but is also likely to cause some adverse effects, the proposed action is "likely to adversely affect. " If incidental take is anticipated to occur as a resuh of the proposed action, a "is likely to adversely affect " finding must be made. A formal Section 7 consultation is required to determine how and if a project may proceed.
Insignificant Effects - relates to the size of the impact and should never reach the scale where take occurs.
Discountable Effects - are those effects that are extremely unlikely to occur. Based on best judgment a person would not (1) be able to meaningfully measure, detect, or evaluate insignificant effects; or (2) expect discountable effects to occur.
Take - to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct. Harm is further defined by FWS to include significant habitat modification or degradation which results in death or injury to listed species by significantly impairing behavioral patterns such as breeding, feeding, or sheltering. Harass is defined by FWS as actions that create the likelihood of injury to listed species to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal patterns which include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.