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Fish And Wildlife Identify Caribou Habitat

Area now 30,000 acres instead of 375,000 acres

Published in the February 2013 Issue Published online: Feb 22, 2013 White Out & Wide Open—The Blog

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in late November its recommendation for final critical habitat designation for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou.

Fish and Wildlife had originally sought about 375,000 acres but thanks to feedback from lots of different people, that number of acres was reduced to 30,000 acres, 24,000 of which are in Washington state and the other 6,000 in Idaho. The designation is of concern to snowmobilers because severe restrictions would have been put in place in a much larger area than what is now being suggested.

Here is the press release dated Nov. 27, 2012, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fish and Wildlife Service Identifies Areas Essential to the Conservation of the Southern Selkirk Mountains Population of Woodland Caribou

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today its final critical habitat designation for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou).

The southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou has been protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as an endangered species since 1984. It occurs in the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and northeastern Washington and British Columbia.

The Service is designating 30,010 acres in Idaho’s Boundary County and Washington’s Pend Oreille County as critical habitat because they contain the physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the species.

The final designation, modified from the 2011 proposed 375,552-acre designation, is a result of 150 days of public involvement and extensive analysis that included public information meetings, hearings, comment periods, scientific peer review and a reexamination of information regarding occupancy at the time of the caribou listing.

“Thoughtful inquiry and scientific information was presented to us by Tribes, citizens, federal and state agencies, elected officials and other interested parties, Brian T. Kelly, the Service’s Idaho State Supervisor, said. “Because of this, we have a modified rule that adheres to policy, is responsive to issues raised by others, and most importantly, addresses priority habitat for caribou conservation. We are most appreciative of the time invested by many during the comment periods, public meetings and hearings. We look forward to participation in the collaborative conservation of this species in the future.”

Under the ESA, the Service is required to identify the most important geographic areas that are critical to the conservation of a listed species. The critical habitat designation requires federal agencies to consult with the Service on federal actions that may affect critical habitat, and prohibits federal agencies from carrying out, funding, or authorizing the destruction or adverse modification of the habitat.

Activities undertaken by private landowners that do not involve any federal funding, permits or other activities are not affected by a critical habitat designation. The designation does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area, and it does not allow government or public access to non-federal lands.

The U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington, required the Service to submit a final critical habitat designation under the terms of a Settlement Agreement with Defenders of Wildlife, Lands Council, Selkirk Conservation Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned the Service to designate critical habitat for the caribou.

The final critical habitat designation; proposed rule; draft economic analysis; maps; public comments and reports are available at http://www.fws.gov/idaho or by appointment during normal business hours at the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office’s Spokane and/or Boise offices.

And here are comments from Idaho Governor Butch Otter about the USFWS’s announcement.

“On Nov. 27, Idaho received some unexpected good news from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The agency announced its final critical habitat designation for the southern Selkirk Mountain population of woodland caribou—which have been protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1984.

“I originally expressed some serious concerns about a one-size-fits-all, top-down approach we are so used to seeing from the federal government. But by working on this issue with our congressional delegation, our state Office of Species Conservation and others, we were able to provide the feds with meaningful input.

“As a result, the 375,000-acre critical habitat designation proposed in 2011 was modified down to 30,000 acres—including 24,000 acres in Washington and 6,000 acres in Idaho.”

To view the map go to www.fws.gov/idaho/home/CaribouFCHNov2012.pdf.