|The Mountain-Prairie Region|
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
October 12, 2005
Contacts: Al Pfister
970-243-2778 ext 29
Draft Biological Opinion Finds that the
Village Wolf Creek
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has provided a draft biological opinion to the U.S. Forest Service regarding their proposal to grant access across Forest Service lands for the Village at Wolf Creek, a residential and commercial development near Wolf Creek Pass in southwest Colorado. The draft biological opinion addresses the effects of the project on the Canada lynx, a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture (applicant) submitted an application to the Rio Grande National Forest for year-round access across land administered by the Forest Service to a 287.5 acre private parcel proposed for development as the Village at Wolf Creek. Because the applicant requested “Applicant Status” from the Forest Service, our biological opinion addresses the development of the village as well as the Forest Service’s granting of an access permit.
The private property owned by the applicant is entirely within the Wolf Creek Ski Area Special Use Permit area, which operates as a winter sports resort under a 40-year special use permit issued by the Forest Service. The applicant proposes to construct and maintain two access roads to the private property and utility corridors associated with those roads. The applicant also has plans for development of 24,000 sq. ft. of commercial space associated with hotels, an additional 135,100 square feet of commercial and restaurant space, along with 160 hotel units, 161 multifamily units, and 140 mixed use units as part of Phase I as approved by Mineral County. Full buildout of the project may entail 2,172 units for residential and commercial development.
The Service has reviewed the effects of construction and use of the Village at Wolf Creek access roads and utility corridors across Forest Service lands and determined that an appreciable, year-round increase in vehicular traffic of two to five times existing levels on Highway 160 would increase the likelihood of lynx mortalities from vehicular collisions and likely inhibit effective use of the parcel by lynx. Lynx avoidance of Highway 160 from the vehicular traffic increases would impair local and dispersing movements that would lead to reduced linkage between large habitat blocks in the San Juan Mountains which are considered to be some of the best lynx habitat in the state, and are part of the core area for the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s lynx augmentation efforts.
The Service determined that the direct and indirect effects of the proposed action will not jeopardize the continued existence of lynx in the contiguous United States.
As part of the draft biological opinion, the Service offers reasonable and prudent measures which minimize the impacts of lynx mortalities from vehicle collisions resulting from increased traffic and minimize habitat fragmentation. These measures are required for the exemption from the prohibition against take contained in the incidental take statement to be valid.
“Take” is defined as harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting a threatened or endangered species, or attempting to engage in any such conduct; and may include significant habitat modification or degradation if it kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavior patterns including breeding, feeding, or sheltering.
The draft biological opinion was prepared as part of the consultation procedures under the ESA that require Federal agencies to consult with the Service to determine if actions they permit, authorize, or fund may jeopardize the continued existence of an endangered or threatened species. A biological opinion is the document that states the opinion of the Service as to whether or not the proposed action is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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