Denver, CO Mar. 21 (AP by Robert Weller)--The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the nocturnal, tuft-eared Canada lynx _ a symbol of opposition to development in the Rockies _ as a threatened species.
Environmentalists had hoped the lynx would be declared endangered, which would have offered even greater protections. But Mike Senatore of Defenders of Wildlife said: ``It's clearly a step forward in lynx conservation.''
For a decade, environmentalists have been pressing the agency to protect the snowshoe-pawed cat, which is so secretive that biologists had a tough time studying it. Tuesday's decision applies only to the Lower 48 since the lynx thrives in Alaska.
Now all forest management plans and permits must be reviewed, said Diane Gansauer of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. That includes logging, recreation and mining. In some cases, private landowners, ranchers and outfitters could face restrictions. But she expected the impact to be minimal.
``The goal of the Endangered Species Act is to recover species to levels where protection under the act is no longer necessary. These forest management plans will serve as blueprints for recovery,'' said Ralph Morgenweck, a Fish and Wildlife Service's regional director.
Environmentalists contended ski expansions were destroying the animal's habitat. After lawsuits aimed at stopping an expansion at Vail failed, eco-terrorists claimed responsibility for setting fires that caused $12 million in damage on Vail Mountain in 1998. No one has been arrested.
Twelve conservation groups filed a lawsuit March 13 in U.S. District Court in Washington, accusing the Fish and Wildlife Service of repeatedly missing court-ordered deadlines on a lynx decision.
The state of Colorado declared the lynx endangered in 1973, and began restoring the animals to mountain areas last year. It has imported nearly 100 animals from Canada and Alaska.
Next month the state will release 50 cats, which will wear satellite collars to allow precise tracking. The cats also have been fattened up to avoid starvation. Four of the first five lynx released last spring starved to death before they could find the snowshoe hares that are their prey.
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