September 7, 2017

PLF sends dilatory Service notice of a lawsuit threequel

By Jonathan Wood Attorney

What does it take to get the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to follow the law? For the citizens of Bonner County, Idaho, and members of the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, the answer is AT LEAST one petition, two formal comment letters, and three federal lawsuits. That’s ridiculous!

This past Friday, on behalf of Bonner County and ISSA, PLF sent a 60-day notice of our intent to sue the Service for failing to reach a final determination on its May 2014 proposal to remove the Southern Selkirk Mountains population of caribou from the Endangered Species List. The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to issue a final rule on a proposal within one year. The Service is over two years late meeting that obligation.

This delay is particularly inexcusable because the Selkirk population is not even a valid listable entity under the Endangered Species Act. And while the Service rests on its laurels, real people suffer the consequences of the illegal listing.

Winter recreation, including snowmobiling, is a substantial part of Bonner County’s economy. But the Service significantly restricts the use of trails as a result of the listing—the listing that is not even legal under the Endangered Species Act. A 2012 report revealed that trail closures led to 77% of snowmobile dealers in the region closing down. As much as one-quarter of the winter jobs in the area were lost, representing $21.5 million in earnings.

In addition to acknowledging the illegal listing, the Service proposed to define a broader caribou population, downlist it from endangered to threatened, and define critical habitat. As we argued in our most recent comments, the Service must consider the negative economic impacts and exclude areas where the costs exceed the benefits. But it looks like it will take yet another lawsuit to get there.

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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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