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Press Release

For Immediate Release, March 24, 2015

Contact:  Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495, ngreenwald@biologicaldiversity.org

                                Tim Layser, (509) 671-2501

                                Haley McKey, (202) 772-0247, hmckey@defenders.org

                                Mike Petersen, (509) 209-2406  mpetersen@landscouncil.org       

Court Gives Idaho's Endangered Caribou Another Chance for Adequately Protected Critical Habitat


Judge Finds U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Did Not Give Public Opportunity to Comment on Agency's Decision to Cut Critical Habitat by 90 Percent

BOISE, Idaho-  In response to a lawsuit from a coalition of six conservation organizations, a federal court has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its 2013 decision to reduce by 90 percent its designation of critical habitat for the endangered mountain caribou.

The court found in Monday's decision that the agency had not given the public sufficient opportunity to comment on the final designation, which slashed protected habitat for the beleaguered caribou from a proposed 375,562 acres to a mere 30,010 acres. 

"We can recover mountain caribou in Idaho and Washington, but it can't be done without protecting their habitat," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "I'm encouraged the lower 48's last caribou will get another chance at being awarded the amount of critical habitat that will truly foster their recovery." 


Caribou once ranged across much of the northern lower 48 states, including the northern Rocky Mountains, upper Midwest and Northeast. The last remaining population in the northern Rocky Mountains was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1984. In response to a 2002 petition from the conservation groups, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designation of more than 375,000 acres in 2011. But then, in a sharp reversal in 2012, the agency designated only about 30,000 acres for the animals, arguing that caribou primarily reside in Canada now and that conservation efforts there are sufficient.


"We didn't abdicate recovery of the bald eagle to Canada nor should we do so with the caribou," said Senior Attorney Jason Rylander at Defenders of Wildlife. "It will be a sad day if we have to tell our children and grandchildren that we once had reindeer in the lower 48 states, but that we allowed them - like the passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet and so many others - to be wiped out."


The Fish and Wildlife decision to slash critical habitat threatens to undermine habitat protections called for in the species' federal recovery plan, which identified the area needed for recovery as being somewhat larger than the proposed 375,000 acre designation. In 2005 the groups sued the Forest Service and obtained a closure to snowmobile use for the habitat identified in the recovery plan. The final critical habitat designation, however, includes only a fraction of this area, and the Forest Service is already considering lifting the closure. With new technologies allowing snowmobiles to get ever farther into the backcountry, these machines are a major threat to the shy, easily spooked animals.  


"This is one step out of many that are needed to stop the decline of this small caribou herd that likely once numbered in the hundreds," said Tim Layser, wildlife biologist with the Selkirk Conservation Alliance. "With adequate protection from the impacts of off-trail snowmobiling and other threats, caribou numbers can once again be given a chance for recovery in the United States, although other issues need to be addressed."

Mountain caribou are a unique form of woodland caribou adapted to surviving winters of deep snow, with dinner-plate-sized hooves that work like snowshoes and an ability to subsist for three to four months at a time on nothing but arboreal lichens found on old-growth trees. U.S. caribou are part of a population that straddles the border with British Columbia, with fewer than 20 animals found on the U.S. side of the border in recent years. 


The groups fighting for greater protection for the caribou are the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Selkirk Conservation Alliance, The Lands Council, Idaho Conservation League and Defenders of Wildlife, and were represented in litigation by Laurie Rule of Advocates for the West.

March 3, 2015

Conservationists Challenge Wildlife Services' Authority to Kill Wolves in Washington

Wildlife Services Activities Threaten Wolf Recovery, Healthy Ecosystems

Olympia, Wash. - Today, the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) on behalf of five conservation groups, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Wildlife Services program challenging its authority to kill endangered wolves in Washington state.

Full press release

June 11, 2014

Rules sought for conflict over wolves

read full article in Spokesman Review

Wolf public meeting - January 16th

Are you concerned about how Washington treats wolves?  The recovery and management of gray wolves in will be the topic of three public meetings this month hosted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). A panel of experts will discuss ongoing efforts to recover Washington's gray wolf population, the latest information from population surveys in Washington and gray wolf management strategies used in other states.

Meetings will include an opportunity for the public to submit questions to the presenters about wolf recovery and management.  Tomorrow, Jan. 16 is where you can make your voice heard at the Center Place Regional Event Center, 2426 N. Discovery Place, Spokane Valley, 6-8 p.m.


Caribou Update:  12/18/12

Woodland caribou once roamed across many of the Lower 48 states, but their numbers were decimated by habitat loss, poaching, motor vehicle accidents and harassment by snowmobilers.  Now, a small population along the Washington/Idaho border has been hit hard by two recent decisions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   First, the agency decided to only designated a little over 30,000 acres for critical habitat - about 5% of their necessary recovery area and far less than the 375,000 acres they proposed in November 2011.

Next, the agency has caved into a petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation and its clients, Bonner County in Idaho and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association and  a new study to determine if the woodland caribou found in Idaho and Washington should continue to be protected as an endangered species.

The woodland caribou, also known as mountain caribou, are a distinct population that are very different from caribou in northern Canada and Alaska, and were deemed endangered in 1984.  It is undisputed that woodland caribou are struggling to survive in the U.S. Only four were tallied in northern Idaho and eastern Washington during an aerial census last winter, although the U.S. population is estimated to total several dozen animals.  They are found only in the wildest part of the Selkirk Mountains, where road building and logging has not occurred.  The agency has twice before considered delisting caribou and rejected the idea both times - hopefully that common sense will prevail this time.

We think the Endangered Species Act should be enforced and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should spend their time improving their recovery efforts, not cater to the special interests of a few individuals.  We support an economic recovery for the Priest Lake area,  which can include snowmobiling in some areas, but we also support quiet recreation and better protection of habitat for caribou, grizzly, lynx, wolverine and other rare species that make our region so special.


A very Faustian choice is upon us: whether to accept our corrosive and risky behavior as the unavoidable price of population and economic growth, or to take stock of ourselves and search for a new environmental ethic. - Edward O. Wilson 

The woodland caribou is considered one of the most critically endangered mammals in the United States. Roaming wild expanses of forests, woodland caribou historically traveled throughout Canada and the northern United States. Tragically, this community of wandering large creatures, with their distinctive antlers on both the males and females, their large hooves adapted to snowy landscapes, their peculiar reliance on arboreal lichens for food in winter, and their backdrop of stunning old-growth forests, has been distilled into an argument of jobs vs. the environment.

The southern Selkirk population of the caribou belongs to a unique mountain dwelling form of caribou known as the "mountain ecotype" that, unlike other woodland caribou, do not form large herds or make large migrations. Instead, these caribou migrate between low and high elevation forests, and disperse widely within their range to avoid predators. 

Thought to number between 200 to 400 caribou historically, the southern Selkirk Mountains population, the only one remaining in the U.S., had dwindled to approximately 25 by the time of its listing in 1984. Partly because of repeated augmentation efforts taking from other populations, the Selkirks herd has increased to about 46 caribou in the entire recovery area, which straddles the U.S. - Canada border. Most of the animals stay in British Columbia, with four or fewer found during aerial surveys by wildlife biologists in recent years on the U.S. side of the border.

Once numbering in the thousands from northeast Washington to Glacier National Park and south to the Clearwater River, with additional strongholds in the Great Lakes states and Maine, the caribou recovery area represents less than 1% of historic range once occupied by caribou in the lower 48 states. Except for this remaining Selkirks population, they were eliminated by a combination of logging of their old-growth forest habitats, hunting and poaching, and roads. Research shows caribou are displaced by snowmobiles and other winter recreation activities and tend to avoid these areas in following years. Wildfire has also affected the caribou's preferred habitat, as has predation by mountain lions. Thus, natural events with which caribou have evolved pose threats when combined with modern-day human activities.

The area managed for recovery since a Caribou Recovery Plan was written in 1994 covers about 746,500 acres in the US.  The recently proposed Critical Habitat is 375,565 acres-only about half the Recovery Area.

The mountain ecotype of caribou are a globally unique species found only in the inland temperate rainforests of southeast British Columbia and parts of Washington, Idaho and Montana.  These caribou have survived two ice ages, human development, and human degradation of their land. These endangered animals symbolize the valuable remnants of a once-thriving ecosystem, with clean air, clean water, and pristine forests.

Local government figures and others have expressed and fomented fears that the proposed designation of critical habitat in the southern Selkirk Mountains is just more federal meddling in local affairs. Some snowmobile and timber interests believe that livelihoods would be threatened by critical habitat designation, but since 1987 caribou recovery has been a part of the forest plans for the Idaho Panhandle and Colville National Forests. Designation of caribou critical habitat includes national forest habitats already being managed by for caribou recovery.


  • Click here to read the June 14, Spokesman Review article on snowmobiler-commissioned study.
  • Click here to read the May 31, Spokesman Review article on draft economic analysis for recovery area.
  • Click here to read the Spokesman Review article, Caribou face precarious prognosis, by Becky Kramer, February 26, 2012
  • Click here to read the Spokesman Review article, Feds propose critical caribou habitat in Idaho, Washington, by Rich Landers, November 29, 2011
  • Click here to read The Spokesman Review article, Agency will study habitat of caribou - Conservationists hail decision as crucial for species' survival, by Becky Kramer, The Spokesman Review, June 4, 2009

Our fish and wildlife friends are important parts of balanced ecological systems. These "ecosystems" are made up of diverse habitats, which not only support viable populations of wildlife, but also provide priceless services to human communities such as clean water. Animal and fish populations thus serve as indicators when human activities become unsustainable.

These are reasons why The Lands Council works to save endangered, threatened, and sensitive species, such as mountain caribou, Canada lynx, and bull trout. And because these species depend so much on intact forest ecosystems, we work to preserve old growth and native forests, restore watersheds, and protect roadless areas.



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