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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, February 16, 2007

Jonathan Oppenheimer, Idaho Conservation League, (208) 345-6942 ext. 26
Rebecca Greenberg, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3217
Mark Sprengel, Selkirk Conservation Alliance, (208) 448-2971
Joe Scott, Conservation Northwest, (360) 319-7056
Mike Petersen, The Lands Council, (509) 838-4912
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 243-6643

Protection Granted for Mountain Caribou:
Judge's Ruling Shields Essential Habitat While Maintaining Snowmobile Access

PRIEST LAKE , Idaho– The last remaining mountain caribou in the lower 48 states received an extra measure of protection from the Eastern District Court in Washington. The court issued a February 14 ruling that will allow the endangered caribou to migrate from the northern areas to the southern areas of their habitat, while still permitting snowmobiles in much of the Priest Lake region.

“This ruling demonstrates that Idaho is big enough for both snowmobiles and mountain caribou, something we’ve believed all along,” said Mike Petersen with The Lands Council in Spokane. “Once a species goes extinct, there’s no bringing it back, so we have to protect the few caribou we have.”

A single herd of mountain caribou, recently estimated at approximately 37 animals, remain in the lower 48 states, making them the most endangered large mammal in North America. Like elk and other wildlife, caribou are most vulnerable in the winter when they are stressed by cold weather and deep snows. Snowmobiles and other recreational vehicles passing through caribou habitat have put additional strain on the herd.

“Judge Robert Whaley’s pivotal decision provides critical protection for the rare mountain caribou in northern Idaho,” said Mike Leahy with Defenders of Wildlife. “The protected area is necessary to ensure that historic caribou migration patterns, which are so essential for their survival, can continue.”

The ruling allows snowmobiling in areas along the edges of the designated recovery area and several trails within the recovery area, yet prohibits most off-trail use in the most essential caribou habitat. Approximately 90 percent of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest is outside the recovery zone and will not be affected.

Conservation groups originally took legal action against the Forest Service in 2005 because the agency’s winter recreation policies threatened the endangered mountain caribou. In November 2006 the conservation coalition reached an agreement with snowmobilers on which play areas and trails needed to be closed off for the species’ protection; then the Forest Service intervened with a plan of its own, which would have meant far less protection for the caribou and to which the court was sympathetic. The conservationists asked the court to reconsider, and more land was then closed to snowmobiling—producing a compromise that, though not quite as good for caribou as the original agreement had been, was clearly superior to the Forest Service plan.

“We feel that Judge Whaley’s decision strikes an important balance between allowing access and protecting mountain caribou when they are most vulnerable,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer of Idaho Conservation League. “It provides suitable access to recreation areas while still protecting the only remaining caribou habitat in the nation.”

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