Caribou endangered status under review again

Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou are protected under the Endangered Species Act. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou are protected under the Endangered Species Act. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

SPOKANE — The federal government plans a new study to determine if the woodland caribou found in Idaho, Washington and Canada should continue to be protected as an endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will conduct a new review of the Selkirk population of caribou, after deciding that removing them from protection “may be warranted.” The animals were given endangered species protection in 1984.

The agency made that decision in response to a petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation, Bonner County in Idaho and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association. That petition contended the Selkirk population of caribou is not significant and not worthy of protection because large numbers of the animals live across the border in Canada.

But the Center for Biological Diversity said this is the last population of woodland caribou in the lower 48 states and should be protected.

“If it were up to the Pacific Legal Foundation, caribou, Puget Sound orcas and many other species would be allowed to go extinct in the contiguous United States simply because they also live in Canada,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Scientists from both sides of the border have determined the southern Selkirk population is significant and needs protection to survive.”

The agency originally proposed setting aside 375,000 acres in the two states as caribou habitat, an amount that produced an outcry from recreation groups, loggers and local government officials. In late November, the agency reduced that total to 30,100 acres in Idaho’s Boundary County and Washington’s Pend Oreille County, after taking public comment.

No one disputes that woodland caribou are struggling to survive in habitat south of Canada. Only four were tallied in northern Idaho and eastern Washington during an aerial census last winter, although the population is estimated to total several dozen animals.

In a decision last week, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it would conduct a new study of the Selkirk herd of caribou. The agency has twice before considered delisting caribou and rejected the idea both times.

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