Residents blast caribou habitat plan - Bonner County Daily Bee: Local News

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Residents blast caribou habitat plan

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Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 10:00 am

COOLIN — With more than 375,000 acres of land seemingly “up for grabs” upon the designation of critical habitat for caribou in the southern Selkirk Mountains — nearly 200 citizens turned out to show their concerns at Tuesday’s coordination meeting between Bonner County commissioners and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials.

The meeting, called by commissioners and held at the Inn at Priest Lake,  was set with the hopes of altering or influencing the designation process through the coordination.

An open forum for over an hour, the audience pulled no punches showing their displeasure with the proposal, asking “where are these caribou” and “what will happen to this land after it’s designated as critical habitat.”

Questions posed to U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials, who had the answers but left the audience members with mixed emotions and a foreshadowed outcome of gloom if the proposal goes forward.

Fish & Wildlife announced last November it proposed designating 375,562 acres in Bonner and Boundary counties and Washington state’s Pend Oreille County as vital habitat for the endangered reindeer relative.

Woodland caribou were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1984, with Fish & Wildlife estimating a herd of 46 caribou in the recovery area.

County officials, along with those in attendance who live around and frequent the area, contend, however, that those numbers are over-inflated and expressed that as few as only “one or two” caribou may be present.

Fish & Wildlife Supervisory Biologist Bryon Holt opened the meeting by reiterating the proposal is, “just a draft” and “input from experts and community members is still needed.”

He added that the woodland caribou were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1984 and the Selkirk Conservation Alliance and several other environmental groups sued in 2002 to bring about habitat protections. A subsequent suit in 2009 forced Fish & Wildlife to designate critical habitat.

Holt would also try to reassure everyone in attendance that “private activities will still occur without interference from ‘the fed.’ even after designation.” And that the proposal is somewhat “redundant.”

“To the average person you’re not going to see a difference,” he added.

A sentiment that didn’t sit well with the audience, who collectively seemed to feel the designation will ‘open the flood gates’ for further government action. Even calling the proposal a complete, “land grab” while citing Agenda 21 as the main driving force behind the decision. Agenda 21 is an action plan  of United Nations for sustainable development.

Mike Nielsen, along with fellow commissioner Lewis Rich and commission Chairman Cornel Rasor, also pointed out that “the language in the proposal is so vague that it could include prohibiting activities such as snowmobiling, hiking and huckleberry picking.”

All activities that are the lifeblood of the local community, audience members and officials said.

A point taken by Holt and North Idaho field office supervisor Ben Conard, who both represented the Fish & Wildlife service at the meeting.

Resident Lee Pinkerton, a retired assistant chief with the Border Patrol, spent his fair share of time adding thoughts he said he wouldn’t have been able to express when he was with the agency.

“The Forest Service manages the land,” Pinkerton said. “So even though the proposal may not signify any roads or areas being closed now, once they consult with Fish and Wildlife they could do just that.”

“The forest managers need to take into account past, present, and future,” he added before a strong applause from the audience.

The attendees also touched on the true number of woodland caribou in the area, citing a national census that has shown between 0-4 caribou each winter over the past decade.

“To add one, or lose one is a 10-15 percent increase or decrease,” Holt said, adding “in the last several years we have documented 0-4 caribou through telemetry in the winter time.”

One factor unable to be documented through telemetry being that of the number of gray wolves, a known predator to caribou that was introduced by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to the Selkirk Mountain area.

Numerous audience members expressed the noticeable absence of predation in the proposal, a serious threat to the caribou and best put by one local resident who stated, “you could drop off 40 caribou in Sandpoint each year and they would all be eaten (by wolves) before they could get back to the border.”

  The public comment period was also announced to be extended 60 days and that a final ruling on the designation is due by Nov. 20 of this year.

Rasor and Nielsen also noted that they intend on having at least two more ‘town hall style’ meetings to discuss the issue.

“This is a balance between animals and humans, and this community would dry up and go away if we don’t handle it correctly, Nielsen said.

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  • Easterner posted at 6:28 am on Thu, Jan 26, 2012.

    Easterner Posts: 25

    What everyone needs to realize: The caribou and the "people" have been living and recreating in that area for many years now. Why change how it's being used. Apparently the Caribou are acclimated by the snowmobiles. I'm all for leaving things along. If the "people" haven't run them out yet, they don't want to leave and that's not justification to run us out of 375,000 acres of PUBLIC land. Yes PUBLIC which means used by all not just the self righteous few that may not even live here or have just moved in recently and want to change the area for their personal benefit. These are probably the same people who complained about where they used to live but couldn't live there because they couldn't change it to suit their agenda.

  • cattywampus posted at 3:51 pm on Wed, Jan 25, 2012.

    cattywampus Posts: 33

    Contrary to what the County Commissioners, most of last night's meeting's attendees, and the Property Rights Council believe, humans are not the master species with the right to destroy the environment and its wildlife for their selfish and greedy purposes. Even when you remove the scientifically justified caribou habitat, there is at least double that amount of adjacent public land left for everyone to recreate in. Most folks in this neck of the woods never learned or have forgotten that responsibility is a prerequisite for freedom, nor do they think that " is free in relation to the number of things he can afford to leave alone."

  • Laurie Wadkins posted at 1:39 pm on Wed, Jan 25, 2012.

    Laurie Wadkins Posts: 637

    GWH, I agree... I keep forgeting that our dwindling public wilderness is viewed as a free for all public exploitation for monetary gains and our own enjoyment, be damned the other species, the trees and the ecosystem. I suggest we turn the acreage over to the resort owners and the public to destroy as they see fit. Build the ramps, trails, log, hunt, trample and drive over everything that makes a "wilderness" what it is.

  • Great White Hunter posted at 1:23 pm on Wed, Jan 25, 2012.

    Great White Hunter Posts: 14

    Common sense says that provision can always be made for disabled people. That goes without saying. That was a dumb post.

    Who’s trying to keep people out of the forest? I don’t know that person.

    The forest should be enjoyed by people who respect its beauty and will not destroy it. Hunters and fisherman welcome too – on foot or on horseback.


  • ponderay paddler posted at 11:26 am on Wed, Jan 25, 2012.

    ponderay paddler Posts: 1

    GWH I have read your rants about keeping us out of the forest. It sounds like your center of the universe syndrome fails to include the disabled and handicaped Americans that cannot walk or ride a horse into these public lands. These Americans have every right to access these public lands like everyone else. The only way in for them is through motorized means. I would love to see someone challenge the ban on motorized use using the ADA. I guess these Americans are too lazy to walk or ride a horse in.

  • Great White Hunter posted at 11:04 am on Wed, Jan 25, 2012.

    Great White Hunter Posts: 14

    Bottom Line: Snowmobiles and other motorized non-emergency vehicles must be banned from the wilderness year around. If you are too lazy to walk in or go on horseback, you should stay home rather than participate in raping the environment and chasing deer and other animals to death with your gas guzzling, polluting and eco-damaging machines.

    Snowmobile dealers who sell to other than emergency agencies (and a few residents who are snowbound and use them for necessary transportation only in a non-threatening manner) are merchants of death! They ply death and suffering to animals and the raping of the environment. And would further deny the wonders of the wilderness to future generations for personal profit. They are the recipients of blood money. Why don’t they get real jobs?