|The Mountain-Prairie Region|
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
December 22, 2005
Opinion Finds that the Village Wolf Creek
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has provided a 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.
After reviewing the current status of Canada lynx, the environmental baseline for the Project area, the effect of the Project, as well as the cumulative effects, it is the Service’s biological opinion that the development of the Village at Wolf Creek is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Canada lynx in the contiguous United States.
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 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 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. Upon review, the Service has determined that the direct and indirect effects of the Project will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of both the survival and recovery of lynx in the contiguous United States
In the final version of the Biological Opinion, the Service simplified the take statement due to widespread confusion and misinterpretation regarding the meaning of the lynx numbers in the draft. We are quantifying "take" from linkage reduction and loss of connectivity using surrogate measures. The numbers of lynx alluded to in the draft as being "impacted" by the form of take quantified using surrogate measures were meant solely to illustrate the impact to lynx rather than to imply that each of those lynx would be "taken." We have addressed this in the final by removing the confusing numbers.
“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.
As part of the biological opinion, the Service has determined that as a Reasonable and Prudent Measure, the Applicant shall minimize take from linkage reduction, habitat fragmentation and vehicle collisions resulting from increased traffic volume by facilitating safe passage of lynx across Highway 160 within the Project area.
In order to be exempt from the prohibitions of take, the Applicant must comply with the terms and conditions set forth by the Service, which implement the Reasonable and Prudent Measure described above and outline required reporting and monitoring requirements. The terms and conditions include, but are not limited to:
· The Applicant shall fund a study in coordination with Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) and subject to Service review and approval to determine where lynx are crossing Highway 160. The Applicant will work with the Service and CDOW to determine the timing of the study, and how the study will be conducted.
· To assist in development of the study described above and to provide expertise as described below, Applicant shall convene a technical panel. The Applicant shall gather the views of individual panel members on a strategy to minimize the take that is anticipated to occur from the Project within the action area for the first phase of the project and to the extent possible for all other phases up to full build-out. The panel will be provided with the information contained in the biological opinion related to baseline conditions, what is known about the first phase of the Project, other phases of the Project and effects of the action. The panel will consist of technical representatives with expertise in lynx biology, traffic and other relevant disciplines from the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Service, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Forest Service, and two representatives of the Applicant’s choosing representing relevant traffic and biology expertise. Individual panel members nominated by the respective entity shall be subject to the Service’s review and approval.
· The Panel shall consider information gleaned from the lynx movement study once it is completed, relevant available literature, the amount of traffic expected to be generated by the Project in Phase I as well as estimated traffic volumes for full build-out, and the amount of traffic independent of the Project. The individual Panel members will make recommendations for actions that need to be taken to provide safe passage across the Highway 160 in general, as well as the actions that will appropriately minimize take from the Project in Phase I. The Panel shall make appropriate recommendations for actions that minimize take on Highway 160, which may include: 1) the design, construction, maintenance and monitoring of lynx crossing structures; 2) the implementation of habitat management and/or manipulation efforts that facilitate lynx crossing of highways; (3) traffic and speed control measures; and 4) other measures deemed appropriate for facilitating lynx movement across highways.
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 build-out of the Project may entail 2,172 units for residential and commercial development.
The 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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