County to challenge caribou habitat plan - Bonner County Daily Bee: Local News

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County to challenge caribou habitat plan

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Posted: Friday, December 16, 2011 10:00 am

SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners are preparing to push back against a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposal to designate the southern Selkirk Mountains critical habitat for endangered woodland caribou.

The board is tentatively scheduled to take up the matter at its business meeting on Tuesday. Commission Chairman Cornel Rasor said the county will decide whether to invoke a federal rule requiring agencies to coordinate with local officials on land use matters.

It could mark the first time the conservative county commission will demand negotiations with a federal agency.

“We have a dog in this fight and we have tools that have never been used before,” said Rasor.

Fish & Wildlife announced last month it intends to designate 375,562 acres critical habitat for the mammal in Bonner and Boundary counties, in addition to Washington state’s Pend Oreille County.

The agency estimates that there are about 46 woodland caribou in the southern Selkirks.

A handful of environmental groups, including the Priest River-based Selkirk Conservation Alliance, petitioned Fish & Wildlife in 2002 to designate critical habitat for the species.

The proposal is chilling spines at Priest Lake, where residents bitterly contested changes to a winter motorized access plan with the U.S. Forest Service a few years ago. Snowmobile tourism is the lake’s lifeblood during winter and helps sustain local resorts in the off season.

“The number of businesses that have either gone out of business, bankrupt or sold in the last three years is unimaginable,” said Bob Davis of Elkins Resort.

The habitat designation is particularly troubling to Priest Lake residents and merchants and visitors because they feel it could lead to year-round restrictions on forest use. Some are also concerned that the rules could be interpreted to restrict all forms of recreation — including hiking and huckleberry picking — in the forest above 4,000 feet.

Priest Lake landowner Don Howell argues the critical habitat designation could serve as backdoor passage to a wilderness designation at Priest Lake.

“It’s wilderness by fiat rather than wilderness by congressional designation,” he said.

Agency maps depicting the proposed habitat boundaries do not square with the federal register, which indicates the habitat would extend west from the U.S. Highway 95 corridor into Washington state and south to the Pend Oreille River.

“It’s far more vast than what they’re describing,” said Matt Linscott, a Bonner County snowmobile rider and forest access advocate.

In addition to coordination, commissioners may seek a peer review of the science justifying the designation and assistance from the Mountain States and Pacific legal foundations and forest access groups. They may also rally support from other commissions from affected counties, state lawmakers and Idaho’s federal delegation.

“We need a united front,” said Commissioner Mike Nielsen.

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  • RodStafford posted at 4:00 am on Sun, Dec 18, 2011.

    RodStafford Posts: 8

    Bravo to the BOCC for standing up to that infamous group of Human-Hating cowards, the Selkirk Conservation Alliance. I think that the families and business owners who have lost - and will be losing - their income and livelihoods in the wake of this pointless exercise, should have the opportunity to occupy the same room with the Selkirk Conservation Alliance members for a couple of hours, with the doors locked from the outside.

    I wonder how passionate the Selkirk Conservation Alliance members, who are so brave in their Beardmore Building office, tucked safely behind a desk, and safe as they fly above the snowmobile routes in their Cessna's, would be when they have to look those families and children in the eye, and tell them they will have to move to North Dakota so their Dad can work outside in Sub-Zero temperatures - just so a handful of Woodland Caribou - who may or may not even be LIVING in the area they have "quarantined" - can criss-cross the occasional groomed ten feet of snowmobile trail (how terrifying) or Heaven forbid, hear the sound of an internal combustion engine in the distance (it would probably be the sound of the SCA Cessna's making their paranoid spotting runs along the snowmobile routes, not the actual snowmobiles themselves).

    I think that for all the local dollars lost to the arrogance and elitist posturing of the members of the Selkirk Conservation Alliance, the same amount of dollars should be taken from their personal bank accounts to support those displaced families and children.

    As long as their dreamy vision of a Human-Free wilderness (Human-Free except for THEM, of course - because ONLY THEY are able to lightly touch the ground with recycled Eco-shoes, and paddle across the waterways in a sufficiently respectful fashion) is executed in the courts from a safe distance, as a legal abstraction, they don't have to face their victims - and the consequences of their actions are experienced only by people they have obvious contempt for.

    Let them look the victims of their actions in the eye, face to face - and tell them in person why they feel a Caribou is more important than a child - why their abstract dream of a Human-Free Wilderness makes their vision of the future more valid than the dreams of a secure future that we have for our families. I doubt if they would even come out from behind their desks...

  • leechstomper posted at 9:21 am on Sat, Dec 17, 2011.

    leechstomper Posts: 1403

    It is about time that some - ANY - local polititions developed some spine and stood up to the moronic, overzealous, proclimations coming out of the Feds thanks to the ESA (Entirely Scatophagous Autogenous). Since It's inception, the ESA has been administered by spoiled brats throwing tantrums and demanding that it is their way or the highway. It is time to throw away the Dr. Spock non-violent book on child rearing and take them to the woodshed for an attitude adjustment.