June 26, 2014

PLF comments on caribou downlisting

By Jonathan Wood Attorney

This week, PLF filed a comment letter on behalf of Bonner County and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association addressing the proposed downlisting of the caribou. The impetus for the Service’s decision was a petition that PLF filed two years ago explaining that the original listing violated the Endangered Species Act. PLF had to file not one but two lawsuits against the Service to force a decision on that petition. The proposal acknowledges that the original listing was illegal but, rather than delisting as requested, the Service created a new caribou listing and “reaffirmed” the existing critical habitat.

If this decision becomes final, it will mean continued suffering for residents, small businesses, and visitors to Northern Idaho. The association commissioned an economic study of the impacts that caribou regulation has on the region. It found that the regulation costs 900 winter recreation jobs, representing about $21.5 million in economic activity. Additionally, the local timber industry is affected with a spillover effect on local schools, which receive funding from that industry.

Despite these significant costs, the Service persists in maintaining an illegal listing and has indicated that it will not analyze the economic impacts of its decision, as the law requires. PLF’s comment letter objects to both of these defects:

The ESA carefully identifies what entities may be listed as either endangered or threatened, and what the consequences of each category are. The proposed listing of the Southern Mountain Caribou DPS violates the ESA in multiple respects. First, the DPS is not a listable entity. Second, the Service has not considered the severe economic consequences that result from prohibiting take and designating critical habitat. With respect to threatened species, Congress directed the Service to consider these costs at two stages: when determining whether regulating private activity that affects the particular species is “appropriate;” and when designating critical habitat. However, the proposed listing indicates that the Service does not intend to consider these impacts at either stage.

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Bonner County v. Zinke

For decades, citizens of Bonner County, Idaho and members of the Idaho State Snowmobile Association have endured profound negative effects from the federal government’s listing of the Southern Selkirk Mountain caribou population. The local economy depends heavily on winter recreational activities that are significantly limited by trail closures related to the caribou. Over three years ago, the government acknowledged the caribou was not endangered and should never have been listed in the first place. And then it did…. nothing. The Endangered Species Act requires action within certain deadlines to delist species, and the government ignored all of them. PLF represents the residents of Bonner County and the snowmobilers in a lawsuit to force the government to follow the law and delist the caribou.

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