January 20, 2018
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Plum Creek’s threat to lynx without scientific merit

By Daniel J. Harrison, Special to the BDN
Updated:

I am writing to rebut the misinformation and pseudoscience that is being circulated by two prominent nongovernmental organizations that oppose the Lily Bay development proposed by Plum Creek. Their assertions are that the proposed development would eliminate critical lynx habitat and compromise the viability of lynx in the Moosehead region. I strongly disagree with those assertions.

Our research in combination with extensive radio telemetry studies being conducted by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife suggest that no more than a few lynx could occupy home ranges that intersect the Lily Bay development as proposed. In fact, the excellent soil and site conditions adjacent to the development area would typically support mature deciduous and mixed forests in an unmanaged stand condition. Those conditions would result in stem densities of saplings well below the thresholds needed by snowshoe hares, which are the required food of the lynx. Home ranges of a single lynx average tens of square miles, thus the proposed development area could comprise only a small part of the home ranges of a few lynx.

The current habitat condition for lynx in Lily Bay is well below optimal. The good hare habitat that is present today originated from clear-cut harvests, followed by application of herbicides to shift the species mix towards conifer trees. Without active forest management this area would support few hares and, perhaps, no lynx.

Densities of snowshoe hares are about 10-fold higher in regenerating clearcuts dominated by evergreen trees compared to uncut broadleaf and mixed stands. Thus, in the absence of aggressive forest management, the proposed Lily Bay development area would naturally progress to a mature broadleaf and mixed stand condition that would provide poor habitat for hares and lynx.

Our satellite imagery from 1975 indicates that the area in question represented very poor snowshoe hare and lynx habitat at that time. In fact, if established as a reserve tomorrow, the proposed development area would likely transition into poor lynx habitat by about 2035.

The key to maintaining a viable lynx population in Maine is to maintain large, functional, diverse, intact and interconnected landscapes spanning millions of acres. Thus, the proposed Lily Bay development would have potential impact on a few individual lynx relative to the significant, broader scale positive benefits to the statewide lynx population of conserving and maintaining the functional forest landscape via the easements and conservation acquisitions associated with the larger Plum Creek proposal.

The proposed large-scale easements associated with the Plum Creek development proposal would interface with existing easements (e.g., West Branch), state lands and existing conservation lands to provide a level of protection for lynx habitat that is unprecedented east of the Mississippi river and south of Canada.

Thus, I strongly encourage the Land Use Regulation Commission to avoid protective measures in Lily Bay that would threaten the economic viability of the larger conservation benefits provided in the Plum Creek Plan. The assertions that Plum Creek’s proposed development in Lily Bay would threaten the state’s federally threatened lynx population are without scientific merit.

Daniel J. Harrison, Ph.D., is a professor in wildlife ecology and a cooperating professor of sustainable forestry at the University of Maine.


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