For Immediate Release, January 15, 2009
Jerry Boggs, Selkirk Conservation Alliance, (208) 448-1110
Mike Petersen, The Lands Council, (509) 838-4912
Mike Leahy, Defenders of Wildlife, (406) 586-3970
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Habitat Protection Sought for Woodland Caribou,
One of America's Most Endangered Species
For Six Years, Bush Administration Ignored Request to
Identify Species' Critical Habitat
SPOKANE, Wash.— Conservation groups filed a complaint today in the U.S. District Court in Spokane to compel a response to a 2002 petition for woodland caribou critical habitat which has been ignored for over six years by the Bush administration.
Thousands of woodland caribou once ranged across the northern United States from Maine to Washington. Hunting, poaching, logging, and roads pushed caribou out of all of their U.S. habitats except the Selkirk Mountains in far northern Idaho and northeastern Washington. Now disturbance from poorly managed snowmobiling threatens to push woodland caribou out of even this last refuge. Since 2000, annual surveys of the Selkirks have turned up only three woodland caribou per year in the United States, the rest having been driven north into British Columbia by increased disturbance to their once-quiet alpine environments.
Habitat is the key to woodland caribou survival, and the Selkirk Mountains are the only habitat caribou have left in the country. Caribou are being precluded from using much of this last habitat as a result of disturbance from heavy and poorly located snowmobile use. Without habitat protections, disturbances to caribou winter range are likely to increase and block this species from even more of its last U.S. sanctuary.
“There is plenty of room in Idaho for woodland caribou and other uses of public lands,” said Mike Petersen with The Lands Council in Spokane. “However, without protections for the last habitat Americans have left them, this species is at grave risk of blinking out of our country completely.”
In 2002, conservation groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate “critical habitat” for woodland caribou under the Endangered Species Act. Critical habitat is habitat “essential to the conservation of the species,” and one of the primary tools for recovering endangered species. (ESA section 1532(5)(A)(i)-(ii)). The Bush administration responded in 2003 that the Fish and Wildlife Service had higher priorities, and, as the Bush administration ends next Tuesday, it still has not addressed the petition.
“It’s hard to imagine a higher priority than protecting the last little bit of habitat that remains available to one of the most endangered species in the country,” said Jerry Boggs with the Selkirk Conservation Alliance. “It’s high time to protect this incredible animal habitat before it’s too late.”
Caribou are the only member of the deer family in which both sexes grow antlers. Like other wildlife, caribou are most vulnerable in winter when they are stressed by cold weather and deep snow. Disturbances during this time put additional strain on the herd.
“America’s precarious woodland caribou populations are on the brink of extinction without immediate habitat protection the law requires. This is yet another Bush administration environmental train wreck that the new Interior Department will have to fix,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Woodland caribou pass winters in the harshest and highest alpine environments, but are not adapted to withstand the barrage of pressures humans have thrown at them without some help,” said Mike Leahy with Defenders of Wildlife. “Their last habitat is their last hope, and needs to be secured from increasing threats. It is our hope that the new Obama administration will take a fresh look at this issue. We stand ready to work with the new administration to resolve the suit and establish much-needed critical habitat for this highly endangered species.”
For the complaint and more information please visit http://www.defenders.org/programs_and_policy/wildlife_conservation/imperiled_species/woodland_caribou/index.php