PLF comments on caribou critical habitat

May 19, 2016 | By JONATHAN WOOD

This week, PLF filed comments, joined by Bonner County, Idaho and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association (ISSA), on the Service’s proposed critical habitat designation for the woodland caribou. The comment argues that the Service must address changes in the species’ status, which were brought about by a PLF petition challenging the earlier, illegal listing.

If you’re not familiar with the background, PLF filed a petition several years ago on behalf of Bonner County and ISSA challenging the listing of the Southern Selkirk Mountain population of caribou. We argued that the Endangered Species Act only permits the listing of “species” and that this isolated population didn’t fit the bill. In 2014, the Service acknowledged that we were right, the prior listing was invalid. However, it had designated critical habitat for the population in 2012. Rather than starting over from scratch, the Service proposed to list the woodland caribou (the subspecies containing the previously listed population) and “affirm” its earlier habitat designation for the new species. The Service never finalized that proposal, however. Then, last year, the critical habitat designation was struck down in an environmentalists lawsuit, for failing to give an adequate opportunity for public input.

In our comment, we argue that the Service should not simply reaffirm its earlier habitat designation. Because the woodland caribou is proposed for listing as threatened, rather than endangered, the analysis justifying the designation is no longer valid. Under what the Service calls an “incremental analysis,” it ignores most economic impacts during the habitat designation process, by attributing them to the statute’s take prohibition. This allows the Service to limit the impact of Congress’ command that the Service consider economic impacts when designating habitat and exclude areas where the costs exceed the benefits. Since the take prohibition does not apply to threatened species, like the woodland caribou, the incremental analysis is inappropriate for them.