Environmental groups intend to sue the federal government over its decision to cut more than 90 percent of the land originally proposed as critical habitat for the last mountain caribou herd in the Lower 48 states.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last November announced that it was slashing the habitat proposed in Idaho and Washington from 375,000 acres to about 30,000 acres.
That decision came after an outcry from some politicians and snowmobile advocates, who complained that too much land was being set aside to help a small number of caribou.
While there are large herds in Canada, the mountain caribou in the U.S. is limited to a small corner of North Idaho and northeastern Washington. The animals face conflicts with humans over road construction and snowmobile recreation.
“This reduction in protected habitat is a death sentence for mountain caribou in the United States,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups that filed an intent to sue notice on Thursday.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision ignored the science and caved to political pressure,” he contended.
The Fish and Wildlife Service had not yet seen the intent to sue and does not comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Joan Jewett said Thursday.
The agency last winter 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. After some contentious public hearings, the agency reduced that total to 30,100 acres in Idaho’s Boundary County and Washington’s Pend Oreille County.
In December, the agency also announced that it plans a new study to determine if the caribou found in Idaho and Washington should continue to be protected as an endangered species.