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Environmental groups to sue feds over caribou habitat

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Environmental groups have just released a notice that they plan to sue the federal government over its recent decision to cut more than 90 percent of the land originally proposed as critical habitat for the last woodland caribou in the Lower 48 states. 

A media release was issed by the Center for Biological Diversity. It lists The Lands Council based in Spokane as one of the five groups challenging the federal decision.

In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a plan that slashed its previously recommended protected caribou habitat in Idaho and Washington from more than 375,000 acres of 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.  Federal biologists said the outcry did not influence their decision.

While there are large herds in Canada, the woodland caribou in the U.S. is limited to a small corner of northern Idaho and northeastern Washington.

The animals face conflicts in Canada as well as in the U.S. with humans over road construction and snowmobile recreation.
  

Feds agree to review endangered status of caribou

ENDANGERED SPECIES — "Maybe you got a point there," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seemed to say today as it annouced its response to a petition questioning whether the Southern Selkirk Mountains Population of Woodland Caribou deserves status as an endangered species.

The petition to remove the rarest mammal to venture into the USA from Endangered Species Act protection was filed in May, 2012, by the Pacific Legal Foundation (representing Bonner County, Idaho), and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association.

The southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou was protected under the ESA in 1983 as an endangered species stemming from the threats posed by poaching, habitat loss due to timber harvest and wildfire, motor vehicle collisions and genetic problems through inbreeding. It occupies high-mountain habitat in the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and northeastern Washington and southern British Columbia.

Most of the controversy over caribou protections stems from the habitat issues that have precluded winter snowmobiling into their high habitat at their most vulnerable time of year.

The Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced a dramatic scaling back from its original recommendation for designating critical caribou habitat in the Selkirks.

Brian T. Kelly, the Service’s Idaho State Supervisor, said today that the separate petition from Idaho groups "questions whether the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou warrants listing under ESA. Our initial review found that information in the petition was substantial enough to conduct an in-depth status review.”

More information is available on the Idaho website for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.http://www.fws.gov/idaho/

Here's the viewpoint of the petitioners.  (I must point out that this website uses a photo of the barren ground caribou that roams this Alaska tundra by the hundreds of thousands. This woodland caribou that range into Idaho and Washington are a different subspecies that has a much smaller population.) 

Here is the viewpoint of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Effort to save woodland caribou has clashed with snowmobiling

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A few rebel snowmobilers helped write a restrictive sentence for Selkirk Mountains snowmobilers with the tracks they left along the Selkirk Crest in the early 2000s. 

Warned to stay away from areas protected for the survival of the last remaining woodland caribou herd venturing into the Lower 48 states, they kept coming, defiantly.

Several conservation groups took to the air, photographed the snowmobile tracks in proximity to wintering caribou areas, and made their case to a federal court, getting an injunction on snowmobiling on a larger area of the crest in 2005 and a court ruling in their favor in 2007.

The closure continues this winter as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Idaho Panhandle National Forests continue to work through the science, lawsuits, budget woes and other issues related to managing on-snow motorized recreation with wildlife protection.  (See my Thursday outdoors column.)

Following are links to maps, documents and background stories related to caribou and snowmobiling in the Selkirk Mountains:

2012-2013 map and Snowmobile Guide for Priest Lake, Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint Ranger Districts. The dark purple areas are closed to snowmobiling, with the exception of specific marked routes, because of the 2005 court injunction.

Critical habitat designated for Selkirk woodland caribou, US FWS media release, Nov. 27, 2012

Bonner County files petition to delist caribou, S-R, May 10, 2012

Public land decisions run into roadblocks, S-R, Feb. 26, 2012 

Caribou face precarious prognosis, S-R, Feb. 26, 2012

Caribou protection worries officials, S-R, Dec. 21, 2011

Plan designates land for Selkirk caribou, S-R, Nov. 30, 2011

Agencies increase snowmobile protections for caribou, S-R, Dec. 3, 2010

Lawsuit filed to protect caribou, S-R, Jan. 17, 2009

British Columbia announces caribou plan, S-R, Oct. 18, 2007

U.S. Forest Service crafting caribou plan, March 20, 2007

Caribou buffer zone in Selkirks expanded, S-R, Feb. 28, 2007

Snowmobiles and caribou: Tense trail mix in the Selkirks, S-R, Dec. 17, 2006

British Columbia to transplant more caribou, S-R, Dec. 6  2006

Snowmobilers lose access in court case, S-R, Sept. 26, 2006

Ungroomed ghost town, S-R, Jan. 29, 2006

Group wants snowmobiling halted through caribou land, S-R, Dec. 6, 2005

Caribou numbers desperate, S-R, Nov. 30, 2005

Canada might abandon caribou recovery, Oct. 29, 2005

 Opinion: Caribou lawsuit forced by agency inaction, S-R, Sept. 3, 2005

More snowmobiling restrictions advocated, S-R, Dec. 14, 2004

Caribou facing uphill battle to survive, S-R, July 2, 1997

Caribou transplants survival low, but inching to success, S-R, March 3, 1996

Rare caribou dwindline to 13 in Idaho, S-R, Sept. 3, 1995

More caribou habitat off-limits to snowmobilers, S-R, Jan. 3, 1995