Critical Review Of U.S. F&WS Economic Analysis For Caribou Designation

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The Caribou issue in northern Idaho and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's efforts to "designate" more habitat for the animal is not going away. Not only is this a big issue for the local economies in northern Idaho but for those of us who like to snowmobile in that area.

We here at SnoWest Magazine just received a couple of documents relating to the latest news and analysis on the issue. One document is "A Critical Review of `Economic Analysis of Critical Habitat Designation for the Southern Selkirk Mountains Population of Woodland Caribou' by Industrial Economics Inc., for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (see attached PDF) and the other was titled, "Proposed Woodland Caribou Habitat Designation in Idaho Estimated Local Economic Effects" by Forest Econ, Inc.

The executive summary for that latter document reads:

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes designating a large acreage in the Selkirk Mountains as critical endangered species habitat for woodland caribou. Most of the local economic effects of this are negative and have already started to occur. These include: winter recreation reductions (particularly motorized); winter logging constraints; reduced infrastructure development and silvicultural activities on federal, state and private forests within the proposed boundaries; and reduced timber harvest on those same lands.

"Recreation and tourism impacts of potential caribou habitat listing began when winter recreation opportunities were threatened by potential use restrictions. The 2005 injunction has already changed the winter recreation economy of Boundary and Bonner Counties. The formalization into designated critical habitat should add changes in the operations of state and private timberlands within the proposed boundary to the tourism effects that are already occurring.

"The recreation opportunity change impacts have been most significant in the area around Priest Lake. The Priest Lake economy is very narrowly based; focused almost exclusively on providing goods and services for recreation and tourism. The loss of winter jobs was calculated using two different methods. The first was the most conservative as it was based on abstract estimations of snowmobile use changes. It estimated 24 winter jobs lost representing 8.1 percent of total employment. The second was based on field surveys of actual transaction changes and is probably more accurate. It estimated 76 winter job loses, or 25.7 percent of total local employment.

"The Priest Lake winter economy may be close to a "tipping point" where it will no longer be profitable for businesses to stay open in the winter. If winter recreation, the only basic industry, continues to decline, the winter economy could shut down entirely. Loss of winter income potential in turn threatens the year-round viability of most service businesses.

"Tourism changes are also apparent in other areas. Snowmobile related spending has already contracted to the point where there is little left of the pre-injunction "winter snowmobile economy." Regional snowmobile dealers have declined from 13 to 3, local motels have stopped advertising to snowmobilers and snowmobile rentals are no longer available. Across the North Idaho regional economy, the total recreational effect is loss of 894 jobs and $21.5 million in earnings. Further restrictions and declines would have less impact on other recreation communities in Bonner and Boundary Counties. Their tourism sector is more diverse and resilient, plus many of the effects are dispersed up the trade hierarchy. Sandpoint and Coeur d'Alene have also lost snowmobile sector jobs and income, but their economies are even more diverse and resilient.

"Timber sector changes should come from increasing access restriction that affects harvests and management on 80.6 thousand acres of state and private timberland within the proposed boundaries. The direct employment effect could be about 46 logging and trucking jobs, concentrated mostly in the vicinity of Priest Lake. The total effect of this could be a regional employment loss of 126 jobs and $4.6 million of earnings with the indirect and induced components spread over most of North Idaho. Further log supply constraints have two interesting side effects: (1) the loss of 3.8 million/year to the Idaho School Endowment Fund and (2) a regional log price increase that inhibits local wood manufacturing firms in their attempt to recover from the national recession.

"Aggregate caribou habitat designation economic effects are mostly negative. Combining the recreation and timber effects at the North Idaho regional level generates an aggregate employment effect reducing employment by 1,020 jobs. Lost earnings total $26.1 million/year. In absolute terms, these effects appear large, but they represent only 2 percent of the whole North Idaho economy. These estimates are conservative because they do not include effects that accrue in the northeastern Washington regional economy.

"We found few local positive effects of designation. The caribou inhabitation of the habitat is seasonal and future recreational viewing potentials limited by access constraint, remote location, and minor evidence of public interest. There are far better places to view Caribou than the Selkirk Mountains. Other positive job gains are perverse, and their gains would actually be considered costs in a cost-benefit framework. These include increased agency management, law enforcement and wildfire risk manning."

The entire document was too long to include here.

However, here are a few past stories we ran on

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