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For Immediate Release, November 29, 2011

Contacts:  Mike Leahy, Defenders of Wildlife, (406) 586-3970
Mark Sprengel, Selkirk Conservation Alliance, (208) 448-1110
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Mike Petersen, Lands Council, (509) 209-24


Endangered Woodland Caribou Win Critical Habitat
Federal Wildlife Agency protects more than 375,000 acres in Idaho and Washington for at-risk species

PRIEST LAKE, Idaho— In response to a petition and lawsuit from Defenders of Wildlife, Lands Council, Selkirk Conservation Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 375,562 acres of protected critical habitat in the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and northeastern Washington for the endangered woodland caribou.

“Christmas has come early for America's only reindeer relative," said Mike Leahy, Rocky Mountain director for Defenders of Wildlife. "Critical habitat is an essential tool for recovering endangered species like the woodland caribou, and they deserve our best efforts. The only way to protect endangered animals is to protect the places they live.”

The woodland caribou is perhaps the most endangered species in the continental United States. The southern Selkirk herd of the caribou, which is the only one to occur in the United States, consists of about 45 animals. The southern Selkirk herd 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.

“The woodland caribou of the Selkirk Mountains are highly endangered and need this habitat protection to survive,” said Mark Sprengel, executive director of the Selkirk Conservation Alliance. “Protecting the caribou means protecting the old-growth forests and wild places of the Selkirks, which are cherished by many.”

Thousands of woodland caribou once roamed the northern United States but were eliminated from all of their habitats except the Selkirk Mountains by a combination of logging of their old-growth forest habitats, hunting and poaching, and roads. They continue to be threatened in their last habitat in the U.S. by disturbance from snow mobiles and other winter recreation.

“With today’s designation of critical habitat, the woodland caribou has a shot at survival,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Woodland caribou are one of the many hidden treasures of the Idaho Panhandle and are definitely worth saving.”   

The conservation groups petitioned for critical habitat in 2002 and sued for the critical habitat designation in 2009. In 2005, the groups challenged grooming of snow-mobile trails into caribou habitat on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and obtained an injunction on snow mobile travel and trail grooming in a small portion of the forest that is essential for the caribou. Much of that habitat has now been designated as critical habitat, ensuring these protections will be maintained.  

Read more about the lawsuit that triggered the critical habitat designation.

Read the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed critical habitat designation.

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