Almost exactly one year ago, USFWS proposed ~375,562 acres be designated as critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountain population of woodland caribou. This acreage was decided by USFWS officials that had, “reviewed the available information pertaining to the biological needs of this species and habitat characteristics where the species occurs. This and other information represent the best scientific data available, and the available information is sufficient for us to identify areas to propose as critical habitat.”
The rule proposed in 2011 also noted that “their survival depends on the ability to spread out over large areas of suitable habitat where it is difficult for predators to find them….Mountain caribou habitat is defined as old-growth forests (generally more than 100-150 years old), which support abundant arboreal lichens (the key winter food source of mountain caribou).…Early-winter and late-winter habitats are usually considered to be the most important habitats to caribou, and represent the most limiting type of habitat on the landscape within the recovery area.””
Contrary to their original findings, USFWS have decreased the critical habitat acreage by more than 90% to just 30,010 acres in Washington’s Pend Oreille County and Idaho’s Boundary County.This flip-flop final decision was revealed about one week after Bonner County, the Idaho State Snowmobile Association and the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit against USFWS claiming economic “devastation” in Bonner County due to the designation.
USFWS officials stated that, “We look forward to participation in the collaborative conservation of this species in the future.” That is if any remain.
But the Pacific Legal Foundation obviously won’t be satisfied until all remaining woodland caribou vacate the lower 48. Via quotes to the CDA Press, PLF representative Daniel Himebaugh says that they are, “still going forward with our lawsuit to require the service to respond to our petition (to delist selkirk woodland caribou).”
It is unfortunate that USFWS chose to protect only the habitat being used by an already diminished caribou herd at the time they were listed as endangered in 1983. More habitat needs to be protected to support the possibility of a growing herd.