Idaho Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo have expressed concern to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Daniel Ashe about the size of the proposed critical habitat for caribou in North Idaho.
Last November, the FWS proposed designating 375,562 acres of critical habitat for the Southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. The proposed habitat, covering nearly 600 square miles, includes land in Boundary and Bonner counties in Idaho. County commissioners and the public from those areas have expressed many concerns about the proposed habitat designation, questioning the size and the science behind it, as well as the estimated recreational and economic impact to the region.
In a written response, the Idaho senators urge FWS to consider a more practical approach to habitat for woodland caribou. They point out that only two caribou were found in Idaho at the time of listing and the proposed critical habitat area far exceeds the distribution and population of those caribou. The senators contend the 600 square miles of proposed habitat is too large and request that the final designated area "be more representative of the distribution of and population of caribou at the time of listing."
Text of the letter is available below:
Dear Secretary Salazar and Director Ashe:
We write to express our concern with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's ("Service") proposed designation of 375,562 acres of critical habitat for the Southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. This proposed critical habitat covers nearly 600 square miles and includes land located in Boundary and Bonner counties in Idaho and Pend Oreille County in Washington State.
The proposed designation will significantly impact the public's access to federal, state and private lands for recreation and other purposes, as well as disrupt economic activities associated with natural resources in the rural communities located within the designated habitat. To minimize the negative consequences of such a large designation, we urge the Service to consider a more practical approach to habitat for woodland caribou that utilizes the best available science to balance the recovery needs of the species with the human needs on the landscape.
With regard to a smaller critical habitat designation, we agree with the Idaho State Department of Fish and Game's assessment that because only two caribou were found in Idaho the same year they were listed, the Service cannot justifiably designate 375,562 acres as critical habitat as caribou were occupying only a small northern portion of those lands at the time of listing.
Critical habitat is defined in Section 3 of the ESA as "the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed." With this section in mind, we would expect that once the Service completes its analysis that this proposed designation will be more representative of the distribution of and population of caribou at the time of listing.
Finally, as with all federal actions that have the potential to negatively affect lives of Idahoans and all Americans, we urge the Service to give all due consideration to the concerns of affected stakeholders as you move toward a final determination on critical habitat designation for the woodland caribou.
Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)
Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho)