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Court: Endangered Selkirk caribou critical habitat must be revisted

UPDATED 4:50 p.m. with response from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

ENDANGERED SPECIES — In response to a lawsuit from a coalition of six conservation organizations, a federal court on Monday ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its 2013 decision to reduce by 90 percent its designation of critical habitat for the endangered mountain caribou.

The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Selkirk Conservation Alliance, The Lands Council, Idaho Conservation League and Defenders of Wildlife, and were represented by attorney Laurie Rule of Advocates for the West.

According to information from the Center for Biological Diversity, the court found that the agency had not given the public sufficient opportunity to comment on the final designation, which slashed protected habitat for the beleaguered caribou from a proposed 375,562 acres to a mere 30,010 acres. 

  • The Selkirk caribou are the most at-risk game species in the United States, with numbers plummeting so low that neighboring Canada is planning to remove two wolf packs to give the prey a break.

“We can recover mountain caribou in Idaho and Washington, but it can't be done without protecting their habitat,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I'm encouraged the lower 48's last caribou will get another chance at being awarded the amount of critical habitat that will truly foster their recovery.” 

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official said the court ruled that a procedural error occurred when the public was not afforded the opportunity to review and comment on the Fish and Wildlife Service's analysis of Canadian habitat in the agency's final determination on critical habitat for woodland caribou.

"The Court directed the Service to correct the procedural error," said Mike Carrier, state supervisor for the Service’s Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office, in an emailed statement.

"The Service is working with the Department of Justice to review the decision and options," he said. “The Service continues to work closely with states, Tribes, First Nations and conservation groups to develop and implement much-needed short and long-term recovery actions for woodland caribou.”

Woodland caribou once ranged across much of the northern lower 48 states, including the northern Rocky Mountains, upper Midwest and Northeast. The last remaining population in the northern Rocky Mountains was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1984.

In response to a 2002 petition from the conservation groups, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designation of more than 375,000 acres in 2011. But then, in a sharp reversal in 2012, the agency designated only about 30,000 acres for the animals, arguing that caribou primarily reside in Canada now and that conservation efforts there are sufficient.

“This is one step out of many that are needed to stop the decline of this small caribou herd that likely once numbered in the hundreds,” said Tim Layser, wildlife biologist with the Selkirk Conservation Alliance. “With adequate protection from the impacts of off-trail snowmobiling and other threats, caribou numbers can once again be given a chance for recovery in the United States, although other issues need to be addressed.”

Mountain caribou are a unique form of woodland caribou adapted to surviving winters of deep snow, with dinner-plate-sized hooves that work like snowshoes and an ability to subsist for three to four months at a time on nothing but arboreal lichens found on old-growth trees. U.S. caribou are part of a population that straddles the border with British Columbia, with fewer than 20 animals found on the U.S. side of the border in recent years.      

 

BC to kill wolves in last-ditch effort to save caribou

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Up to 24 wolves in British Columbia just north of Idaho will be shot by helicopter gunners this winter in an effort to save the 18 remaining southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou from extinction.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources formally announced the wolf removal effort on Thursday, but the planning has been underway for more than a year, said Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manager in Coeur d’Alene.

Both the predators and their prey roam across the U.S.-Canada border into North Idaho and the northeastern corner of Washington. The caribou have been listed as endangered species in the United States since 1984 and they’re also protected in British Columbia.

Idaho and Washington wildlife officials have been consulted as well as First Nations, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canada officials said.

In the South Peace region of the province, officials announced plans to lethally remove 120-160 wolves to save caribou herds threatened by predation. In the four caribou herds that roam that that region, at least 37 percent of all adult mortalities have been documented as wolf predations, Canada officials said.

The South Selkirk herd has declined from 46 caribou in 2009 to 27 in 2012, and to 18 in a survey conducted 10 months ago. Evidence points to wolves being the leading cause of mortality, officials said.

Caribou in the South Selkirk Mountains have been struggling, largely from losses of old-growth habitat and related issues, despite releases of new animals in Canada to bolster the numbers. Snowmobiling has been restricted in most of the core recovery area in Canada and the United States.

“BC considered removing wolves last year,” Wakkinen said. “We authorized them to operate south into Idaho up to 12 miles for any wolf control action to benefit caribou, but they never used it.”

Six of the South Selkirk caribou were captured last winter and radio-collared. While monitoring the animals, Canada researchers learned that two caribou – 11 percent of the remaining herd – were killed by wolves in the past 10 months.

The researchers later captured and fixed radio collars on wolves in two of the three packs in the Selkirk Caribou Recovery Zone to monitor their movements.

“The wolves were collared with the intent of a control action later this winter to eliminate those wolf packs in the caribou recovery area,” Wakkinen said.

Mountain lions also have killed caribou in the wider Purcells-Selkirk region, ministry reports say.

“Two of the wolf packs are north of BC Highway 3 and one is south of the highway and often right on the border in the northern tier of Idaho,” Wakkinen said. Wolves regularly roam the Boundary Lake area of Idaho, he said.

Last week, radio-collared caribou were in Washington “within a sling-shot distance of Canada and Idaho,” Wakkinen said.

Washington has not given Canada officials authority for wolf control, said state Fish and Wildlife wolf policy director Dave Ware.

  • Washington's Wolf Management Plan would prevent state officials from killing wolves even to protect endangered caribou, said Kevin Robinette, department regional wildlife manager in Spokane. "It would be a long process," he said today, noting that Idaho has removed special protections for wolves.

Hunting and trapping of wolves in British Columbia have not effectively reduced populations and may even split up packs and increase predation rates on caribou, officials said.

Habitat recovery continues to be an important part of caribou recovery, but cannot address the critical needs of these herds in the short term, they said.

Trail cam captures shot of Selkirk mountain caribou

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services fudges on the issue, the mountain caribou is the rarest big game species in the United States and therefore the most endangered.

So capturing a photo of a Selkirk mountain caribou isn't just a big deal, says Kalispel Tribe wildlife biologist Bart George — It's "The Holy Grail for trail cam pictures!"

That is, if Sasquatch isn't.

Comment extended on petition to delist Selkirk caribou

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The public is being given an extra 30 days to chime in on a North Idaho-originated petition to remove the rarest and most endangered big-game species in the United States from endangered species protections.

Online comment is extended through Aug. 6 and a meeting is being scheduled in Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry on a petition to delist the Southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

The Service’s finding and proposal were published in the Federal Register (79 FR 26503) on May 8,
2014. In response to the petition, the Service determined that delisting the species is not warranted, and
also proposed to amend the current listing of this population by defining the Southern Mountain Caribou
Distinct Population Segment (DPS), which includes the currently listed southern Selkirk Mountains
population of woodland caribou. The Service proposed to change the status of the Southern Mountain
Caribou DPS to threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, it was determined that the
30,010-acre critical habitat designation is applicable to the U.S. portion of the proposed Southern
Mountain Caribou DPS.

The petition and proposed rule to amend the listing [Docket No. FWS-R1-ES-2012-0097] is available for public inspection in the Federal Register Reading Room

The notice is scheduled to be published today in the Federal Register.  The final document also will be published Wednesday on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Idaho website.

Public meetings have been scheduled as follows (information sessions will be followed by evening public hearings for comment):

June 25, Sandpoint

Informational meeting: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Public hearing:  6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.  -  Speaker Registration begins at 5:30 p.m.

Location: Bonner County Administration Building 1st Floor Meeting Room, 1500 Highway 2, Sandpoint, Idaho 83864

 

June 26, Bonners Ferry

Informational meeting: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Public hearing:  6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.  - Speaker Registration begins at 5:30 p.m.

Location: Bonners Ferry High School Auditorium, 6485 Tamarack Lane, Bonners Ferry, Idaho 83805

Woodland caribou endangered status protections upheld

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A petition seeking to drop woodland caribou as a lost cause for endangered species protections was turned down by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today, the Associated Press reports.

However, the Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the caribou from endangered to threatened status based on a larger area of Canada being included in the protected population. 

The petition had been filed by Pacific Legal Foundation (a law firm that specializes in challenging environmental causes) along with Bonner County and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, which sought to remove protections and habitat restrictions that would open more federal land for development and motorized recreation.

 

Mountain caribou revised to threatened, rather than endangered

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The federal government has downgraded the protected status of the last remaining herd of mountain caribou in the Lower 48 from endangered to threatened. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the change on Wednesday, in response to petitions from Idaho's Bonner County and a snowmobile group. The northern Idaho caribou herd is thought to number only about 30 animals, but interacts with a much-larger herd in Canada. The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group seeking to protect the herd, said Wednesday's decision means the animals will continue to get the protection they need; the center issued a statement here saying the petition sought to remove all protection.

Idaho’s version of “reindeer” more elusive than ever

ENDANGERED SPECIES — You were more likely to see Santa's reindeer last night than Idaho's wild version of the critter.

Woodland caribou were once fairly common in North Idaho. Trapping records from the 1880s indicate that caribou thrived in northern Idaho and could be found as far south as the Clearwater River, according to the latest feature in the Idaho Fish and Game Department's 75th anniversary series of reports.

But it's been all downhill in the 1900s for these remarkable creatures.  Read on for the story from IFG:

Report: Alberta woodland caribou rapidly declining

ENDANGERED SPECIES — There appears to be no refuge for woodland caribou, which already has become the most endangered big game species in the United States.

Report says the number of woodland caribou on the decline in Alberta
A study published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology tied a rapid decline in woodland caribou numbers to increased industrial development, and called for an aggressive campaign to protect habitat to help the species stabilize.
—Calgary Herald

Suit Challenges Caribou Habitat Plan

Conservation groups are challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to shrink protected habitat by more than 90 percent for the last caribou herd in the Lower 48 states. After proposing that 375,000 acres in North Idaho and Northeast Washington be protected for endangered mountain caribou, the Service abruptly changed course last November, protecting only 30,010 acres. Federal officials failed to explain why habitat originally deemed essential to recovering the South Selkirk caribou herd wasn’t included in the final plan, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Idaho’s District Court. “They appeared to cave in to political pressure,” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs/Becky Kramer, SR. More here. (AP file photo)

Question: Do you support this lawsuit?

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.
  

Snowmobiling allowed in one area of Selkirks — unless caribou sighted

WINTER SPORTS — Snowmobiling restrictions have been eased in a state lands portion of caribou habitat in the Idaho Selkirk Mountains — as long as no caribou activity is detected in the area. 

Sounds like a guarantee of sorts.

See the announcement posted this week on Pecky Cox's blog, As the Lake Churns:

The Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) has revised the closure criteria for the Restricted Winter Access Unit (RWUA) located on State endowment trust land in Abandon Creek. This area will now be treated similarly to other preferred caribou habitat located near Temple Mountain, Standard Lakes, Eddy Peak and Horton Ridge. A closure will be implemented only after there has been a confirmed caribou sighting in the Selkirk Crest near the preferred habitat. Since there hasn’t been a caribou sighting since 2004, the Abandon Creek area will be open to motorized use this winter unless a caribou is sighted within 2.7 miles of the RWUA perimeter or upon recommendation of Idaho Fish and Game.

Previously, confirmed sightings south of B.C. Highway 3 (i.e. Snowy Top) triggered a closure in the Abandon Creek area. The change in criteria for the Abandon Creek area is reflective of IDL’s review of the recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service critical habitat designation for caribou, and it has now been 8 years since the last confirmed caribou sighting (2004) on State endowment trust land in Abandon Creek.

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

Feds back off big time on caribou habitat protections

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has downsized its recommendation by more than 10 times for woodland caribou critical habitat in the Sellkirk Mountains. In a country accustomed to supersizing everything, this is a notable example of supershrink.

See story.

The map above shows the orginal proposal.

The final critical habitat designation is posted here.

See documents involved in this final designation here.

The announcement came Tuesday, just days after Bonner County filed a lawsuit challenging legal protections for caribou, but FWS officials say there was no connection.

Idaho's Congressional delegation lauded the federal agency's new light-size critical habitat designation.

The designation will be enacted on Jan. 30.

INFO: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal:  In the Keyword box, enter Docket No. [FWS–R1-ES-2011-0096]. In the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Send a Comment or Submission.”

Meantime, the Idaho Conservation League offers points to ponder about this dubious decision and the precarious position it presents for this endangered species. 

Click "continue reading: to see the points:

Idaho delegation lauds new, smaller caribou habitat designation; ICL says it’s not enough for recovery

Idaho's congressional delegation is praising the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for its final designation of critical habitat for endangered woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains, which, instead of the original 375,552 acres, designates just 30,010 acres, only 6,029 of it in Idaho. That Idaho habitat is all on national forest land in Boundary County; no land in Bonner County was included.

"I am pleased that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listened to the public outcry regarding the impacts this expanded critical habitat designation would have had upon people's livelihoods," said 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador. "This is an example of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recognizing the need for improved species management and we applaud the efforts of the men and women on the ground in Idaho who made this decision."

Sen. Jim Risch called the final designation "more realistic than the initial proposal," and 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson called it a "reasonable and fact-based decision." Click below for their full statements.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Conservation League noted that the number of caribou has dropped from 46 in 2009 to just 27 in 2012. Brad Smith, ICL conservation associate in Sandpoint, said of the new habitat designation: "Unfortunately, this represents that habitat used by an imperiled herd rather than a recovered herd. More habitat must be protected to have a growing herd and achieve recovery." He released a Q&A on the caribou habitat designation; you can read it here.

Bonner County sues over caribou protections

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) ― A northern Idaho county and a snowmobile group have sued the U.S. Department of Interior in federal court, the latest step in their bid to have Endangered Species Act protections lifted from rare woodland caribou that roam the U.S-Canadian border region. Bonner County and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association filed their complaint Thursday in U.S. District Court. They're being represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group. Their complaint contends U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has failed to act on their petition lodged earlier this year contending the caribou were improperly given ESA protections starting in 1983. They want Salazar to make a decision on the petition ― and to pay for their lawsuit. Four caribou were counted south of the Canadian border during an aerial census last winter.

Pregnant caribou could drop state’s first calf in 50 years

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Montana wildlife officials say a Canadian caribou has wandered into northwestern Montana for the second time this spring, and this one has the potential to make history. 

Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife manager Jim Williams tells KCFW-TV the possibly pregnant cow is from a herd that biologists brought to British Columbia to augment an existing herd. 

He says if the caribou gives birth, it would be the first known caribou birth in Montana in over 50 years.  

A biologist in Libby is tracking the animal in the Purcell Mountains, near the Yaak River and anyone who spots a caribou is asked to report the sighting to FWP. 

In late April, state wildlife officials located a collared caribou that was feared dead, got it medical treatment and returned it to Canada.

Caribou habitat comment period extended; Bonners Ferry meeting set

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Citing requests from Idaho’s governor, local governments and the Kootenay Tribe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a 60-day extension for public comment on a proposal to designate critical habitat for woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains.

The federal agency made the announcement this morning along with scheduling a public hearing on the proposal for April 28 in Bonners Ferry.

The woodland caribou that range from North Idaho and a sliver of northeastern Washington north into British Columbia are listed as an endangered species.

Federal biologists have proposed designating 375,565 acres of high-elevation critical habitat in Idaho and Washington for the caribou. They say the designation would have little impact on protections that already are in place.

Idaho’s Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and Boundary County officials asked for an extension to the comment period that was announced in November as well as additional opportunities for citizens to participate in public processes regarding the proposal, FWS officials said.

“We recognize the public’s interest in this issue and will work together to help citizens fully understand our proposal to designate critical habitat for caribou,” said Brian Kelly, the Service’s State Supervisor for Idaho.

FWS is re-opening the public comment period on the caribou proposal until May 21, 2012.

Read on for more details about the proposal and the public meeting in Bonners Ferry.

Bonner County mounts case to remove caribou protection

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Bonner County commissioners in Sandpoint have approved spending up to $10,000 as part of plan to have Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou taken off the federal endangered species list, according to a story moved by the Associated Press.

Commissioners last week unanimously approved a plan that involves a contract with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm that focuses on property rights. Commissioners also approved a memorandum of understanding that allows the public to contribute money to the effort.

"We're going to seek out donors," Commissioner Mike Nielsen told the Bonner County Daily Bee.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1984 listed the caribou as a protected species. Woodland caribou, rarely-seen creatures with their antlers stand as tall as a man, are struggling to survive in the United States, precariously occupying one remote area of the Northwest as a final toehold in the Lower 48.

Continue reading, more from the AP:

U.S. House votes to allow oil drilling in ANWR

PUBLIC LANDS — The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday night to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling as a provision of the Transportation bill.

This was proved to be a bad idea for the fragile arctic environemnt and the colossal wildlife values of the arctic plain in the 1990s.  It's still a bad idea.

N. Idaho locals hammer feds on proposed caribou habitat

PUBLIC LANDS — Some North Idahol residents are upset by a proposal to designate an area half the size of Rhode Island in a remote part of the Panhandle and Washington as critical habitat for endangered woodland caribou.

They blasted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at a meeting on Tuesday, saying the federal plans amounted to a land grab that would devastate the local economy, according to an Associated Press story by Nicholas K. Geranios.

But federal officials said the designation was required to help save the last remaining caribou herd in the Lower 48 states. They said the average person should not be impacted by a critical habitat designation.

That didn’t satisfy many of the estimated 200 people who showed up at the so-called “coordination” meeting requested by the Bonner County commissioners, who are seeking to provide input to federal regulators.

“Our goal in this coordination is to stop this closure,” county Commissioner Cornel Rasor admitted.

Read on for details from the AP report.

Bonner County Rips Caribou Plan

Courtesy of Pecky Cox and As the Lake Churns, Rod Stafford provides this "Caribou Bob" 'toon, revealing the feelings of some North Idaho residents toward the region's protected caribou. You can see the rest of the cartoon here.

Question: Do you think Selkirk Caribou are overprotected in northernmost Idaho?

N. Idaho officials to meet with feds about caribou

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  Bonner County commissioners to meet with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials later this month with the goal of altering the federal agency’s plan to protect habitat for woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains.

The meeting is set for Jan. 24 at the Inn at Priest Lake in Coolin.

Commissioners are concerned the plan to designate as critical habitat nearly 600 square miles of land in northern Idaho and northeastern Washington will harm the local economy by restricting logging, snowmobiling and forest access, according to an Associated Press report.

Fish and Wildlife announced the plan in November after lawsuits by environmental groups. The agency estimates the woodland caribou herd in the region has dwindled to less than 50, with occasional sightings.

“For three caribou, we’re going to tie up over 375,000 acres?” Commissioner Mike Nielsen told the Bonner County Daily Bee, indicating that he prefers to ignore the concept of trying to protect critical habitat for a recovering species.

 “That’s over a hundred thousand acres per caribou that people can't use," he added in a serious overstatement or outright lie. 

People would continue to be welcome to visit the high caribou habitat, although motorized vehicles would be restricted in some areas.

There are issues worth discussion in this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal, but spewing propaganda cheapens the appeal.

Bonner County mulls options to challenge Selkirk caribou habitat protection

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Bonner County commissioners may challenge a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposal to designated 375,562 acres as critical habitat for endangered woodland caribou in the southern Selkirk Mountains.

The issue is on the meeting agenda for Tuesday, when the commissioners may discuss invoking a federal rule that requires agencies to coordinate with local officials on land use matters, according to a report in the Sandpoint Daily Bee on Friday.

“We have a dog in this fight and we have tools that have never been used before,” Commission Chairman Cornel Rasor told the newspaper.

The FWS estimates about 45 woodland caribou exist in the southern Selkirks.

The proposal to protect habitat is chilling to businesses at Priest Lake, where residents a few years ago were rocked by Forest Service restrictions on snowmobile entry into the Selkirk caribou recovery zone.

Bonner County Commissioners already have established a Property Rights Council that is challenging federal Environmental Protection Agency standards on developing wetlands around Priest Lake, as detailed in this report by the Boise Weekly

Feds propose habitat protections for Selkirk caribou

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday a proposal to designate 375,562 acres of critical habitat in North Idaho and northeastern Washington for southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The action was prompted by appeals starting in 2002 by environmental groups. The action could lead to rule changes for logging, fire control and human activity in some areas. Comments on the proposal will be accepted until Jan. 30.

See comments from Forest Service on what's already being done to protect the region's caribou in today's news story.

The southern Selkirk Mountains caribou was listed as an endangered species in 1984. At last count, 46 caribou were surviving in the Selkirk Mountains of North Idaho, northeastern Washington and British Columbia.

The proposed critical habitat is located in Boundary and Bonner counties in Idaho, and Pend Oreille County in Washington. These lands are currently considered to be occupied by the species.

Read on for details from today's announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Snowmobiling restrictions enforced to protect endangered caribou

SNOWMOBILING — The snowmobiling closure in the woodland caribou recovery zone along the crest of the Selkirk Mountains will be enforced this winter, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a press release issued this afternoon.

A free map of legal snowmobiling trails is available at Colville National Forest and Idaho Panhandle National Forests offices.

The caribou, listed as endangered in 1984, are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Their potential habitat also is protected. Only 50 or fewer of the caribou remain in Eastern Washington, North Idaho and southeastern British Columbia.

During the winter, the caribou feed primarily on lichens hanging from trees above snowline. The snowmobiling closure seeks to minimize disturbance to the caribou and avoid creating travel lanes that encourage lowland predators to reach the high country where the caribou roam.

The snowmobiling restrictions, which have been in place since 2007, will be enforced by federal agencies as well as state fish and wildlife agencies.