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US announces caribou protections for Idaho, Washington

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — U.S. officials on Wednesday announced protections for woodland caribou and their habitat in parts of Idaho and Washington.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the southern mountain population of woodland caribou as endangered and confirmed 47 square miles (122 square kilometers) in Idaho and Washington as critical habitat requiring special protection.

The agency’s decision came after environmentalist groups sued to seek the critical habitat designation that requires federal agencies to consult with Fish and Wildlife before approving activities like logging or road building.

The designation after the last caribou from the dwindling herd using that habitat were captured last November and January and relocated farther north in Canada for a potential breeding program.

The environmentalists hope caribou will return to Idaho and Washington amid efforts by U.S. and Canadian officials aimed at helping caribou herds grow.

Nearly all the imperiled 1,200 caribou in 15 herds of that population roam in the Canadian province of British Columbia, with one of those herds crossing back and forth into Idaho and Washington. The population in Canada is listed as threatened under that government’s Species at Risk Act, which is Canada’s version of the United States’ Endangered Species Act.

“The idea is that the U.S. and Canada will now participate across the international border to conserve and recover the subpopulation of woodland caribou,” said Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Miel Corbett.

Native American tribes in the U.S. and Canada, where they are called First Nations, are also working to help caribou rebound.

The caribou population listed Wednesday is considered distinct from other caribou for several reasons. They have hooves the size of dinner plates that act like snowshoes and can travel where predators can’t follow. They survive all winter eating lichens found on the branches of old-growth trees, unlike other caribou that migrate to new areas.

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