Federal wildlife managers have dramatically increased the amount of land they want to designate as critical habitat for the Canada lynx, a threatened species.
Wildlife advocates were cautious as they waited to see whether the proposal would stick, while some were upset no area in the southern Rockies was included.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday it wants to designate 42,753 square miles in six states that could come under tighter federal oversight as critical habitat.
That's more than 20 times the 1,841 square miles in three states the agency designated in late 2006.
A final decision might not come until Feb. 15, 2009. Fish and Wildlife said it was accepting public comments on the proposal until April 28, 2008.
The agency reconsidered its earlier rulings about the lynx and seven other species after allegations that Julie MacDonald, a deputy assistant secretary of the interior, interfered in the decisions. She has resigned.
States where land would now be designated as critical lynx habitat are Maine, Minnesota, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming.
Colorado, where state wildlife officials have been reintroducing lynx, was not included. The Fish and Wildlife Service said it was uncertain whether Colorado's reintroduced population would sustain itself.
In 2007 state biologists found no new kittens, down from 11 in 2006 and 50 in 2005. Lynx trapped in Canada were released in southwest Colorado beginning in 1999.
Joshua Pollock, conservation director for Center for Native Ecosystems, said a critical habitat designation was crucial to recovering lynx in the southern Rockies.
''Their habitat continues to get logged, cut up by development. Lynx are run over on highways, accidentally trapped and shot. We need to see critical habitat taken seriously in the southern Rockies. Today's proposal is definitely a blow to that need,'' Pollock said.
Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Tyler Baskfield said the lynx already is considered a ''species of concern'' in Colorado, and populations of the long-haired mountain cat are closely monitored.
The Kettle range in Washington wasn't included either. Fish and Wildlife said there was no evidence of a reproducing lynx population in the last 20 years.
The Maine land proposed as habitat includes property in the Moosehead Lake region where Plum Creek Timber Co. has proposed nearly 1,000 house lots and two resorts.
It wasn't immediately clear if the development would be affected by the announcement. Conservation groups have argued the development should be downsized because lynx are present.
Jym St. Pierre, Maine director of Restore: The North Woods, said the Fish and Wildlife Service's proposal is good news.
''But this is still just a proposal and the proof will be what is actually adopted by the agency,'' he said.
Michael Senatore, director of the biodiversity program of the Center for Biological Diversity, said it would take time to review the proposal but that it was a step in the right direction.
''What's unclear is whether this is sufficient,'' he said. ''It looks like they have left out important areas. There's nothing in the southern Rockies. That's problematic given there are lynx there. It also looks like for the most part they have focused on what may be an overly narrow definition of 'occupied habitat.'''
The 2006 designation of critical habitat for lynx was for Voyagers National Park in Minnesota, Glacier National Park in Montana, and North Cascades National Park in Washington.
The Center for Biological Diversity contends some of the best lynx habitat is on U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land.
In the latest proposal, about 58 percent of land is on federal land, 30 percent on private land, and the rest on state, tribal or other ownership, Fish and Wildlife said.
The group Defenders of Wildlife contends that still does not go far enough.
On the Net:
Fish and Wildlife Service proposed rule: http://tinyurl.com/yo3msp
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