Woodland Caribou Get Reduced Habitat

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the final designation of 30,010 acres of critical habitat in Boundary County, Idaho and Pend Oreille County, Wash., for the endangered southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou, down from the 375,552 acre proposed designation, according to the final rule.
     The factors that influenced the drastic reduction in critical habitat designation were based on information received from public meetings, hearings, comment periods and scientific peer review in more than 150 days of "public involvement and extensive analysis," the agency noted in a statement. "Thoughtful inquiry and scientific information was presented to us by Tribes, citizens, federal and state agencies, elected officials and other interested parties. Because of this, we have a modified rule that adheres to policy, is responsive to issues raised by others, and most importantly, addresses priority habitat for caribou conservation," Brian T. Kelly, the USFWS's Idaho State Supervisor said in the statement.
     The agency concluded that the range occupied by the caribou was smaller than at the time of the species' endangered listing under the Endangered Species Act, and that the number of caribou had also declined, particularly in the southern extent of their range, the rule said.
     The critical habitat is also at or above 5,000 feet in elevation, a change from the 4,000 ft. elevation specified in the proposed designation. New information indicated that "although caribou may use elevations below 5,000 ft. (1,520 m), habitats at [5,000 ft.] and above are essential to their conservation," the rule stated.
     The Selkirk caribou population has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1984, but a recent petition from Bonner County, Idaho, and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association has questioned whether the Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou is "a listable entity" under the act. The agency is currently developing a response to that petition, the rule noted.
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