Another Caribou-ndoggle

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By Dan Drewry

Shoshone News-Press publisher

Kellogg, Idaho

The caribou looked like dogs.

Back in the late 1970s I was writing news for The Bonners Ferry Herald. One of our hottest stories was the re-introduction of the mountain caribou. A few straggling members of a southern British Columbia herd had for generations wandered back and forth across the international boundary. The tree-huggers seized upon the notion of "the most endangered large animal in America" and with the usual lawyers-and-lawsuits threats managed to lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of Boundary County forests.

They also managed to convince a young-and-dumb reporter that tourists by the truckload would show up to look at these remarkable animals and that lost timber jobs would surely be replaced by tourism-based employment. They send wonderful photos of regal caribou bulls in their glorious mountain habitat, and they forced the U.S. wildlife people to transplant a couple of dozen caribou from Canada into their "traditional habitat" northwest of Bonners Ferry.

I remember small-plane flights over the herd, riding with the biologists who were tracking the radio-collared animals. The caribou weren't regal. They looked like dogs.

Before you stop reading, this column will evolve into a way to save Shoshone County's elk and deer herds from wolf predation. So bear with me.

The first batch of released caribou were eaten by mountain lions or wandered north into Canada. So, naturally, the wildlife people rounded up another bunch of 'bou from Canada and released them in Boundary County. Same result: Your tax dollars were turned into mountain lion meals. The Canadians refused to cough up any more caribou from their dwindling herd. And no tourists-surprise, surprise-showed up to look for a non-existent animal.

Oh, the Bonners Ferry Lumber Company mill just west of downtown and a major employer while I lived up there? A faint, fond memory of good-paying jobs.

The 'bou are back in the news these days. The feds want to add 600 square miles of new "critical habitat" for an animal that does not exist in any reasonable number in North Idaho. The impact on snowmobilers, berry-pickers and the lucky few who still have jobs in the timber industry is unacceptable.

Caribou in Bonner and Boundary counties mean 30 years of failure. Thirty years of wasted tax dollars. The biologists and the Timber Taliban have had three decades to bring 'bou back to you. They have failed, miserably. They need to find another line of work - preferably in private industry. Good luck with that.

The caribou reintroduction failure happened years before another re-introduced species, the timber wolf, began wreaking havoc on our big-game herds. The 'bou were devoured upon arrival by the big cats. Add wolves to the mix, and 30 years of taxpayer-funded failure extends out forever. Not that reality makes any difference to the feds. They're "asking public opinion" from the folks of Bonner and Boundary counties. When the government starts asking your opinion, you know the decisions have been made and the gates are going up.

Shoshone County can ride to the rescue of their compatriots to the northwest. First, we log the bejeebers out of a few drainages of lodgepole that's going to burn anyway. Then we decree that it's caribou habitat. Someone bootlegs a few caribou down from Canada-if smugglers can get thousands of pounds of weed across the border, a few caribou shouldn't be much of a challenge-and someone takes pictures of the animals frolicking around up Deer Creek, which we rename Caribou Creek. Shoshone County becomes the caribou capital of America, relieving Bonner and Boundary counties of the dubious honor.

Wolves would immediately eat the transplanted caribou, of course. At that point the county commissioners declare war on the wolves, all the wolves get shot, and our deer and elk herds rebound, and our grandchildren have a chance to hunt elk.

Pretty good thinking, huh? Well, it makes as much sense as locking up another 600 square miles of Bonner and Boundary counties as habitat for an animal that does not exist.

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