Idaho county teaming with legal firm to delist caribou

Sandpoint, Idaho (AP) – Bonner County commissioners in northern Idaho have approved spending up to $10,000 as part of plan to have Selkirk Mountain woodland caribou taken off the federal endangered species list.

Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan that involves a contract with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm that focuses on property rights. Commissioners also approved a memorandum of understanding that allows the public to contribute money to the effort.

"We're going to seek out donors,'' Commissioner Mike Nielsen told the Bonner County Daily Bee.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1984 listed the caribou as a protected species. Woodland caribou, rarely-seen creatures with their antlers stand as tall as a man, are struggling to survive in the United States, precariously occupying one remote area of the Northwest as a final toehold in the Lower 48.

Commissioners are concerned a federal plan announced in November to designate as critical habitat for caribou nearly 600 square miles of land in northern Idaho and northeastern Washington will harm local economies by restricting logging, snowmobiling and forest access.

Fish and Wildlife announced the plan after lawsuits by environmental groups. The agency estimates the woodland caribou herd in the region has dwindled to less than 50, with occasional sightings.

Commissioners contend the caribou population is too small to justify the designation compared to the effect it would have on the local economy.

Under the proposal, 600 square miles of high-elevation forest land in the Selkirk Mountains, including portions of Bonner and Boundary counties in Idaho and Pend Oreille County in Washington, would be designated as critical habitat. Nearly all of the land is already owned by the federal and state governments, with about 15,000 acres in private hands in Idaho.

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