Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Idaho caribou could lose protection

Snowmobilers say population is not big enough to save

Express Staff Writer

The Idaho population of woodland caribou might not be big enough to warrant federal protection, a federal agency announced last week.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency that oversees protections for endangered or threatened species, said on Dec. 18 that removing protection for a population of woodland caribou in northern Idaho “may be warranted.”

The finding was in response to a petition from Bonner County in northern Idaho as well as from the Pacific Legal Foundation and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association. The petition argued that the southern Selkirk population, found at the extreme northern edge of the state, is not significant.

The agency has not yet removed protections, only agreed to study the matter further.

A census conducted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in April 2012 indicated that the entire Idaho population of caribou was 27 animals, separated into three groups. The agency estimates that there was one calf in the population. That’s the lowest number recorded in the past 10 years, as records show the population ranged from 29 to 46 animals between 2002 and 2011.

A report from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game states that the population trend for the woodland caribou across its range—covering much of southern Canada—has been sharply downward over the past 10 to 14 years, dropping up to 50 percent in some regions.

The report states that the Selkirk population has remained relatively stable only due to augmentation with caribou moved from other herds. The main threats to the species are habitat fragmentation and winter recreation, which can push caribou from ideal habitat.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a wildlife advocacy group based in Arizona, is fighting to keep the species protected. Endangered Species Director Noah Greenwald said in a written statement last week that the species’ numbers in Canada, which are high, should not impact protection of the Selkirk population.

“This is the last population of caribou in the lower 48 states and certainly worthy of our care and protection,” he said. “If it were up to the Pacific Legal Foundation … many other species would be allowed to go extinct in the United States simply because they also live in Canada. What if we had said that about the bald eagle?”

The Selkirk population, which roams small parts of northern Idaho and northeastern Washington, has been under federal protection since 1983. Large areas of the Selkirk Mountains are closed to snowmobile use by the U.S. Forest Service to protect the species.

Kate Wutz:

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