Feds Scale Back Critical Habitat for Reindeer in Idaho Panhandle


While a group of Idaho snowmobilers and commercial loggers continue their effort to halt Endangered Species Act protections for woodland caribou that roam Idaho's panhandle, the U.S. government announced Tuesday that it would scale back the acreage it deems critical habitat for the caribou.

The caribou, the closest thing that North America has to reindeer, are rarely seen creatures with antlers as tall as a man. They occupy a remote area along the Idaho-Washington-Canadian borders.

But the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, along with Bonner County commissioners, have the Selkirk Mountain woodland caribou in their sights, claiming the animal population is too small to justify the ESA designation compared to the impact it would have on their local economy. Simply put, they want to snowmobile and resume logging operations inside the caribou's home.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that it would set aside a little more than 30,000 acres in the southern Selkirk Mountains in Idaho's panhandle and eastern Washington for the habitat. The service initially had promised more than 375,000 acres for the caribou.

The woodland caribou are an isolated, one-of-a-kind herd and are considered one of the most endangered species in the continental United States. The group inhabits thick, high-elevation forests, feeding primarily on tree lichen. North of the border, they're called Canadian reindeer.