SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – Two popular Nordic ski trails on Lizard Head Pass that are maintained by the Telluride Nordic Association will no longer be groomed this winter as they cross the boundaries of a U.S. Forest Service Lynx Analysis Unit.
Telluride Nordic Association Boardmember Ivar Eidsmo said on Thursday the group is working with the U.S.F.S., and for now the trails known as “Tom’s Loop” and “South Meadow Trail” can no longer be groomed due to possible adverse impacts on lynx habitat.
The Nordic Association will maintain a dialog with the Forest Service with a goal of including those trails under its permit some time in the future. Forest Service Biologist Curtis Keetch said the entire trail system from Priest Lake to Trout Lake to the top of Lizard Head Pass is prime habitat for lynx and that the trail system acts as a sort of highway for the animals in between the federally designated Lynx Analysis Units.
“A Lynx Analysis Unit is an amount of habitat and its components that would sustain a home range of one female lynx,” Keetch said. “Then there are linkage areas that have all the right components to provide secure lynx [travel] corridors. It just so happens that the trail system falls within a Lynx Analysis Unit and a linkage habitat.”
The document that designates analysis units and lynx corridors was signed in 2008 by the U.S. Forest Service’s regional office in Golden, Colo., to better manage lynx habitats across the state. Because compacted snow (due to ski areas, grooming, and cross-country ski trails) affects lynx habitat in a way that allows other predators to enter the habitat, the 2008 document set a baseline of what is allowed. Both “Tom’s Loop” and “South Meadow Trail” are not designated in the 2008 document.
“If we deviate from that baseline, we have to go through the proper analysis,” Keetch said. “That’s what didn’t happen on the extra trails on Lizard Head Pass.”
Because the area provides such good habitat for lynx, and provides such good recreational opportunities for cross-country skiers, backcountry skiers and, in some areas, motorized vehicle recreation, there is an ongoing study to better see how recreationalists affect lynx in the area.
In the study, Keetch said biologists are trapping lynx and attaching GPS collars on them to plot their movements at intervals of every 10 to 15 minutes.
“We really want to track their movement and see how they use the landscape,” he said.
Along with that, the study is actively tracking recreationalists’ movements as well.
“We have volunteers at strategic trailheads making contact with backcountry users, and on a voluntary basis they will take a GPS unit for a day,” Keetch said. “We have users broken into several different groups including snowmobilers, cross-country skiers and telemarkers.”
The idea is to track the human movement and compare it to the lynx movement to see how recreation affects lynx behavior.
“It’s already showing some interesting stuff,” he said. “Lynx kind of avoid skiers during the active season. We are also finding that other kinds of recreation are more acceptable to them and are less intrusive. It’s a really interesting study and we are learning more about the resources and our wildlife and how they interact.”
As for future grooming of “Tom’s Loop” and “South Meadow Trail,” Keetch wouldn’t rule out the idea, but opening them for grooming has to go through the proper regulatory processes, he said.
“We want everyone to understand how we can use this landscape,” he said. “We still have a lynx policy and procedure to abide by. That doesn’t tie our hands forever, but we do have to go through the proper procedure.”