February 1, 2012 in Idaho

Caribou comment period extended

375,000 acres in Selkirks planned as critical habitat
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Members of the public will have an additional 60 days to comment on a controversial plan to designate 375,000 acres in the Selkirk Mountains as critical habitat for endangered caribou.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to extend the comment deadline after requests from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Boundary County’s board of commissioners.

The original deadline was Monday. Reopening the public comment period requires a notice in the Federal Register, and the new deadline will be 60 days after the notice is published. A public hearing will also be scheduled in Boundary County, so residents will have plenty of opportunity to voice their views, Brian Kelly, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Idaho supervisor, wrote in a letter to Boundary County commissioners.

Nearly 80 percent of the proposed critical habitat is on federal land in Idaho’s Boundary and Bonner counties and Washington’s Pend Oreille County. Federal officials say the habitat designation will impose nominal new restrictions on logging, snowmobiling and other forest activities.

However, in areas such as Priest Lake, where snowmobiling contributes to winter tourism, residents have expressed concerns about effects on rural economies. About 200 people attended a recent meeting on the critical habitat proposal in Coolin, Idaho. None spoke in support.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will conduct an economic analysis of the critical habitat proposal, which could result in boundary adjustments, officials said.

About 46 wood caribou are believed to remain in the southern Selkirk herd, whose territory includes part of southern British Columbia. Caribou are members of the deer family that rely on old-growth forests above 4,000 feet for winter survival. When the snow deepens, they feed almost exclusively on lichens growing on trees more than 125 years old.


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