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For Immediate Release, December 18, 2012

Contact:  Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Caribou at Risk of Losing Endangered Species Act Protection

BOISE, Idaho— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that removing Endangered Species Act protections for the woodland caribou “may be warranted.” The decision came in response to a petition from an anti-environment law firm, Pacific Legal Foundation, along with Bonners County and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association. The petition argues that the southern Selkirk population of caribou, which are found in Idaho, Washington and British Columbia, are not significant and therefore not worthy of protection. Today’s finding does not substantiate that claim, but states the Fish and Wildlife Service will take a closer look.

“This is the last population of caribou in the lower 48 states and certainly worthy of our care and protection,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If it were up to the Pacific Legal Foundation, caribou, Puget Sound orcas and many other species would be allowed to go extinct in the contiguous United States simply because they also live in Canada. What if we’d said that about the bald eagle? This approach not only defies logic and the best available science, it’s also un-American.” 

Woodland caribou once ranged across much of the northern lower 48 states, including the northern Rocky Mountains, upper Midwest and Northeast. Today they remain only in a small area of the Idaho Panhandle and extreme northeastern Washington, where they are part of a population protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1983 and known as the southern Selkirk population, which ranges into British Columbia. The population is part of a larger group of caribou, known as mountain caribou, which have adapted to surviving winters with deep snow in part by having dinner-plate sized hooves that work like snowshoes. Both the Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2008, and Canadian government scientists have recognized the southern Selkirk population as significant and worthy of protection.   

“Scientists from both sides of the border have determined the southern Selkirk population is significant and needs protection to survive,” said Greenwald. “I’ll be deeply saddened if these unique animals are allowed to go extinct, and so will many other Americans.”

The Center was part of a coalition of groups that petitioned for critical habitat for caribou in 2002 and later sued to get them protected habitat. The groups also later sued the Forest Service to get a large area of the Selkirks closed to snowmobile use, which is a major threat to these shy animals. The closure remains in effect, but the Service recently reduced its proposal to designate more than 375,000 acres of critical habitat to a mere 30,000 acres. 

“Now is not the time to back away from nearly 30 years of effort to recover the woodland caribou,” said Greenwald. “With protection from snowmobiles, logging and other threats, caribou can once again thrive in the United States.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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