Two years ago I forwarded a letter to the editor I sent to Field & Stream regarding the winter Caribou closure to SnoWest Magazine. You published that letter in an issue early 2007. We continue with the closures and our right to open our riding areas back up.
Some things are coming to a head on this issue and I wanted you and your readers to remain informed. I’ve often asked where we as snowmobilers are with the closures, so here is an update.
The 2009 Woodland Caribou Census for the South Selkirk Mountains was released June, 2009. The numbers and location of the caribou are nearly identical as last year, with 46 caribou in the South Selkirks broken down as follows: 43 head in British Columbia (of which five are calves), and three head in the United States near the U.S./Canadian border at Snowy Top Mountain. This is the same area as the three head were located last year.
A total of five flights were made over the U.S. side of the South Selkirk Mountains searching for caribou (Jan. 26, Feb. 21, March 12, March 26 and April 6, 2009). The flights revealed no other caribou or tracks in the entire U.S. portion of the ecosystem.
Three head were killed by vehicles in Canada on Highway 3 (Salmo Pass), one in October, 2008 and two in March, 2009.
A map is available on the Idaho Fish & Game website showing location and herd sizes. During the flights over the U.S. tracks were followed, but they ended up being moose tracks. Also, tracks of a single wolf were located in the vicinity of this moose at the 6,000- foot elevation.
Only two of the four remaining radio-collared caribou were detected. Idaho F&G stated, “We’re out of the caribou telemetry business.” Those remaining collared are from the 1998 augmentation in British Columbia, with no plans of capture and collaring more caribou.
Despite failed augmentation attempts into the South Selkirk herd in the past, new augmentations were considered and slated to start with the plan to transplant 20 head into the Purcell herd in British Columbia (as that herd is down to an estimated 15 head), then the next year transplant 20 head into the South Selkirk herd (on the British Columbia side of the border, none in the U.S.) with the rotation between the Purcells and the Selkirks continuing for a total of six years. This would add 60 head over six years to the South Selkirk herd. However, Indian tribes in British Columbia raised concerns that studies haven’t been conducted to the effects of pulling 120 head over six years from other herds. Therefore, no augmentation is slated by the British Columbia Wildlife Ministry.
By Fish & Game’s own acknowledgement, without augmentations it will be impossible to maintain the current population and decline is all but certain.
Consistent for 10 years now, the Winter Caribou Census has identified only 1-3 caribou on the U.S. side of the approximate 800,000-acre ecosystem with their location being near the Snowy Top/Little Snowy Top Mountain area, just two miles from the U.S./Canadian border.
The Comprehensive Analysis of telemetry data gathered over the years was started in 2008, with the goal being a report to finally end the speculation of caribou movement and the true boundaries of their ecosystem. This report will describe the caribou in home range or site fidelity, meaning are the caribou predictable in their seasonal use of areas, their inter-seasonal movements and most importantly, a corridor modeling for caribou within the Selkirk ecosystem.
Winter travel planners can then take this information and map out areas to lessen the likelihood of skier/snowmobile interaction with the caribou and maximize open use of the Selkirk Range.
With the Winter Caribou Census demonstrating a consistency of there being only 1 to 3 caribou—starting around the Snowy Top/Little Snowy Top Mountains—(which by my liberal calculation, just 5,000 acres would suffice for a closure area)—I feel only supports our efforts to reopen much of the 300,000 plus acre caribou habitat area to snowmobiles.
Caribou, by nature, are wandering animals and in areas where there are viable caribou herds, a few individuals migrate from one herd to another each year. This allows for genetic interchange between herds. With only 1-3 caribou consistently all that remains within the U.S there may be a lack of natural augmentation taking place, thus forcing the herd to rely on inbreeding for recruitment and reducing the capacity of the animals to adjust to changing environmental conditions, resulting in less vigorous individuals, genetic mutations and a suppressed auto-immune system. If this sounds familiar it’s the exact verbiage used by biologists discussing the introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park.
The Comprehensive Analysis was completed by senior wildlife research biologist Wayne Wakkinen with the Idaho Fish & Game and sent for internal review around June of 2009 (a peer review by other biologists to verify data and concur with the analysis).
As of this writing (August, 2009), Wakkinen has had no response from the internal review and is sending out notice that he will construe a lack of response as a concurrence with his analysis.
Another obstacle the caribou are facing is the introduction of the wolf. U.S. Fish & Wildlife has given the Idaho Fish & Game a grant to study the relationship between the wolf and caribou. Idaho Fish & Game is going to trap and radio collar wolves to study via telemetry their distribution area and see if they overlap with the caribou ecosystem. Evidently thousands of dollars needs to be spent on trapping, radio collaring, telemetry tracking and helicopter flights to determine if the wolf may acquire a taste for the ever elusive Rangifer Tarandus Caribou.
Biologists have long taken the position that once the wolf and caribou ecosystem overlap it will be to the demise of the caribou. Between the mountain lion and wolves, the caribou cannot survive.
Another aspect is the economic impacts the land closures due to the caribou have created. Winter snowmobile tourism is what drives the Priest Lake economy. With just one lumber mill remaining in the Priest River area, now more than ever Priest Lake relies on the tourist dollar. The listing of the caribou as endangered and the closure to winter travel was done without taking into consideration the economic impact such a designation would create that is required per 16 USCS 1533 (b) (2).
Luckily, through the hard work of the ISSA and tireless efforts of many riders, many riding areas and trails remain, despite extreme environmental groups throwing around lawsuits like they were candy. Priest Lake is alive and well. However, we must not let our guard down and remain diligent in the fight to keep our land open to motorized use and respect the boundary closures until we get our areas opened again.
Mark C. Linscott
Another Snowmobile Trip From A Lady’s Perspective
I am a 48-year-old who got into this sport when I married my husband, Jeff, 13 years ago. My husband and I wear your magazine out. We have graduated to riding out West years ago, even though we live in southern Indiana. We love the mountains and powder. Our vacation this year took us to Grand Lake, CO, and it was our fourth trip there.
Jeff, against my wishes, sold my 2003 Polaris 800 RMK that I felt very secure on and bought me a new Polaris 800 Dragon 155 that he felt I would like better. He also bought an 800 Dragon 163 for himself. I was afraid that the different suspension and chassis would feel tippy to me, especially on the trails and that overall I would not feel comfortable with it.
When we started our day at Spirit Lake Polaris where we had bought our sleds I could see mine standing out in the lot with the red windshield I had added for that “extra girl bling” and I fell in love with how it looked. The real test would be the ride of course. The first 20 minutes on the trails I felt pretty tense but very soon I was relaxed seeing that the sled was not tippy, but comfortable and predictable. When we found our first powder we got off and started playing. Later, I highmarked on Gravel Mountain and knew the sled and I had bonded.
That’s right Jeff, you were right and I was wrong. I love the sled; and ladies, if you want a romantic snowmobiling destination, Grand Lake will fit the bill with great places to stay, fine dining and shopping galore. It has something for everyone.
Snowmobile Capital Of The World
I have to say, I have never found anyone as uninformed and ignorant as the human that wrote the letter to the editor, “Snowmobile Capital of the World” [SnoWest, October, 2009, page 12].
Does he seriously think that the residents of West Yellowstone are the ones to close and restrict Yellowstone National Park? He should really write a letter to his political heads of state and tell them how upset he is. Bill Clinton is the one who started this and it is the last thing that most residents here want.
Seriously, I really didn’t think anyone was that dumb. I will take the slams and apply that to the fact he has never been here but to make the statements he did is just beyond my limits. Maybe he should visit West Yellowstone.
West Yellowstone, MT
Facts About Global Warming
Thank you for your column about global warming and how it should be based on facts, not politics [“Global Warming,” SnoWest, October, 2009, page 12].
Ok, just because we’re sledheads doesn’t mean we’re stupid. Here are the facts: The whole solar system is warming. Have you seen any factories on Mars? Temperature increases CO2, not the other way around. It lags temperatures by 800 years. This increase in temperature releases stored CO2 from the ocean and other organic matter near the earth’s surface. The solar cycle graph closely matches the present temperature, not the CO2 graph.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change left out key data to favor their agenda. Earth’s climate cycle is smaller 10/11 year solar/ocean cycles within larger cycles scientists don’t completely understand. CO2 only accounts for 5 percent of the total greenhouse gas. The rest is water vapor. Also, in the earth’s past, CO2 levels have been up to 1200 ppm compared to our 300-400 ppm level presently. Did dinosaurs drive cars? Also, what about global cooling in the 70s?
Ok, the IPCC that is promoting this whole global movement is not all scientists anyway and they don’t all agree that global warming is human caused. Ask many meteorologists, paleontologists, solar scientists and geologists and they’ll be very skeptical about human-caused global warming. But if they publicly speak up against it they see their funding disappear.
Instead of giving in to the alarmists, it would be wise for us to better understand climate cycles before we start the difficult (and costly) process of regulating CO2. Our economy may depend on it.
I was wondering if, during your “Battle of the 8s” [SnoWest, March, 2009, page 22], there were any belt issues. Which snowmobile went through the most belts? Which one did you feel had the best clutching setup?
(ED—We only had one belt issue. We blew the belt on the Cat M8 during a speed run across the meadow. Clutching was all a stock setup and we didn’t see any advantages from one sled to the next.)