December 18, 2012

Government says delisting Selkirk caribou may be warranted

By Brian T. Hodges Senior Attorney

Today we learned that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will issue a positive initial finding on our petition to remove the Southern Selkirk Mountain Caribou Population from the endangered species list.  We filed our petition in May.  It argues that the Selkirk caribou population, which sometimes roams in the Idaho panhandle and the northeastern tip of Washington, does not represent a legally listable wildlife population under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The technical way to describe our position is that the Selkirk caribou population does not constitute a “distinct population segment” of the caribou species, but instead represents only a subset of the mountain ecotype of the woodland caribou subspecies.  The ESA allows for listing only species, subspecies, and distinct population segments of species.  The Selkirk population does not fit under any of those categories.

The positive finding is especially important for the petitioners—Bonner County, Idaho; and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association.  The faulty caribou listing is the reason that snowmobile trails in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests have been closed in recent years.  Those closures impact everyone in the panhandle, not just riders.  Snowmobiling in Bonner County attracts a lot of tourists, who spend money at local businesses and contribute tax revenue to the county.  Without those dollars, the economy suffers, and local government services can be cut back too.

Compounding the problem is the Service’s critical habitat rule.  Effective December 28, the Service has designated about 30,000 acres of public land in Idaho and Washington as critical habitat for the caribou.  The designation adds an extra layer of federal regulation that threatens to curtail winter tourism.

The Service will now initiate a status review to determine whether the Selkirk caribou population should be delisted.  We expect the Service to issue its proposed final rule on that question in the spring.

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