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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bonner County files petition to delist caribou

Habitat restrictions limit snowmobilers

Endangered species protections should be rescinded for the 46 caribou in the South Selkirk herd, Bonner County argued Wednesday in a delisting petition.

“Caribou aren’t endangered, when you look at North America as a whole, and the federal government can’t legally single out this single herd in isolation,” said Brandon Middleton, a Pacific Legal Foundation attorney who is representing the county and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association in the case.

The South Selkirk herd was added to the endangered species list in 1993. Once found as far south as Idaho’s Clearwater River, caribou counts dropped dramatically over the past century. The South Selkirk herd represents caribou’s last toehold in the Lower 48 states.

The herd uses alpine habitat in North Idaho and northeast Washington, but the vast majority of the herd is in British Columbia. Only four caribou were spotted south of the international border during a recent winter census.

The 15-page delisting petition says the Selkirk herd belongs to an “ecotype” of woodland caribou that lives in the mountains and isn’t a species or a subspecies eligible for listing, according to the petition.

Steve Duke, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s assistant state supervisor in Boise, hadn’t seen the petition Wednesday afternoon. But he said the South Selkirk herd met the distinct population criteria for endangered listing.

“We believe (the herd) is important to maintaining the genetic viability of mountain caribou throughout their range,” he said.

The Greater Bonners Ferry Chamber filed two unsuccessful petitions to delist caribou during the 1990s. The current effort is fueled by resentment over restrictions on winter recreation.

Since 2007, large tracts around Priest Lake have been closed to snowmobiling to protect winter caribou habitat. The closures have had a significant impact on winter tourism in North Idaho, said Sandra Mitchell, public lands director for the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, which has about 4,000 members.

The Pacific Legal Foundation is providing free legal representation in the caribou delisting effort, though Bonner County is picking up travel and court filing costs.

This will be the second Bonner County case for the Sacramento-based foundation, which focuses on property rights issues. Its attorneys successfully represented Mike and Chantelle Sackett in their dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency over a wetlands designation on their Priest Lake property. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.