It’s no secret that Idaho’s grizzly bears, caribou and bull trout are struggling to survive. But few have heard about the plight of the state’s northern bog lemmings, western pearlshell mussels, Pacific lamprey, cave obligate mite or dozens of other native species that are declining because of lost habitat and human disturbance.
A new state report attempts to identify each and every creature that could be at risk of extinction. A draft version of the massive document, called the “Idaho Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy,” was posted last month on the Idaho Fish and Game Department’s Web site. The agency is asking for public input, which it will use to prioritize how conservation dollars will be spent.
Each state is required by Congress to produce such a report to receive federal dollars for wildlife management. Washington is undergoing a similar effort, and the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife recently posted a 28-page list of dozens of imperiled insect, bird, fish, mollusk and wildlife species.
Writing the introduction of Idaho’s report, J. Michael Scott, of the University of Idaho’s Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, said a recent boom in development is making it more important to protect what’s left.
“We can no longer simply set aside lands for wildlife,” Scott wrote. “We must find better ways to accommodate wildlife on our working landscapes.”
Scott noted that Idaho is one of only five states “that still has its full complement of vertebrate species” as well as the largest roadless wilderness area outside Alaska.
“This wildness has made Idaho a destination for those who pursue wildlife. People from around the world travel here to hunt elk, cougar, bighorn sheep and moose, to fish for salmon and steelhead, to look for our four species of chickadees or to watch sage grouse booming on a lek,” he wrote.
State law requires that all wildlife be “preserved, protected, perpetuated and managed,” but until recently, nearly all the protection efforts were focused on animals that could be hunted or caught with a hook.
Chuck Harris, the Idaho Fish and Game Department’s nongame species coordinator, said the conservation strategy report will help the state focus dollars on species that are most at risk of being listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Saving a species on the brink of extinction is difficult and expensive, Harris said in an interview earlier this year.
The report was compiled using earlier population studies as well as new research by state biologists.
Despite all the work, little is known about many animals. Among the 14 species of stoneflies that need conservation help, for example, is one that has been found in Idaho only in a single pond.
The cave obligate mite – a cousin of spiders – is known to exist only in one lava cave in the Craters of the Moon National Monument.
The report is full of similar stories. Common loons have been spotted on Upper Priest Lake and Lake Pend Oreille, but no nesting sites have been found. The report notes that one of the greatest enemies of loon chicks is personal watercraft.
Another “critically imperiled” bird is the black swift, which nests only behind mountain waterfalls. The state’s only two known nesting pairs of the secretive bird live behind a waterfall not far from Coeur d’Alene.
Harris said some hunters and anglers have grumbled about spending money to protect species such as bats, warblers, spiders, lampreys and pocket gophers, but he stressed that the funding does not come from licensing dollars.
Harris also said scientists know now that keeping an elk herd healthy requires a healthy, intact ecosystem.
“We don’t know everything there is to know about ecology,” Harris said in an earlier interview. “This isn’t rocket science. This is far more complex. When you’re dealing with rocket science, you’re dealing with physics and known quantities. We don’t understand what happens all the time in ecosystems.”
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