Lawsuit filed over caribou’s ESA listing

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SANDPOINT — Bonner County’s legal counsel in a move to have southern Selkirk Mountain caribou stricken from the Endangered Species list is filing suit to force the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service respond to the de-listing petition.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the county and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, petitioned for caribou to be de-listed last May, but the agency never responded to the petition.

The foundation argues the petition was based on the government’s own science, which suggests southern Selkirk caribou should be dropped from the Endangered Species Act.

“The problem is the Service did not look at the Selkirk population in relation to the caribou species as a whole. The government singled out a small population without determining whether it was legally discrete or significant in the manner that the ESA requires,” PLF attorney Daniel Himebaugh said in a statement announcing the litigation.

The county resolved to have caribou de-listed after Fish & Wildlife designated 375,000 acres in the Panhandle and eastern Washington as critical habitat for the animal.

County commissioners and snowmobile enthusiasts contend the designation will unjustifiably bar the use of trails and cast a pall over the Priest Lake economy.

Commissioner Mike Nielsen said there are hundreds of thousands of caribou on the continent, making the of Idaho caribou needless.

“This regulatory overkill puts winter tourism and recreation on the endangered list,” Nielsen said in a statement. “It’s very disappointing that we now have to go to court because federal officials ignored our petition that was based on their own findings. With our court case, we’re attempting to enforce reasonable environmental policies — and accountability on the part of federal regulators.”

Nielsen didn’t respond to a request for further comment. Commissioners Cornel Rasor and Lewie Rich didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Sandra Mitchell, public lands director for the ISS, said the group does not want to endanger any species, but it also isn’t walking away from the public’s right to access the forest.

“The caribou listing is closing off recreational opportunities for thousands of people, and undermining the tourism industry without scientific basis, without a showing that recreationists cause harm to caribou,” Mitchell said in a statement.

Earlier this year, the Sacramento, Calif.-based legal foundation convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to allow Priest Lake landowners Mike and Chantell Sackett to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s wetlands designation on their property.

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