Posted: Saturday, December 24, 2011 10:00 am
By KEITH KINNAIRD News editor
SANDPOINT — Bonner County is pressing ahead with efforts to challenge the designation of habitat for endangered woodland caribou.
The board adopted a resolution Tuesday insisting that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service coordinate with the county regarding habitat designation for endangered caribou. Commissioners also resolved to contact other commissions in the Panhandle, Montana and Washington state in order to build a coalition.
Commissioners here further hope to draw in state lawmakers, agencies and Idaho’s federal delegation.
“I’m set up to contact Lincoln County, Pend Oreille County (and) Boundary County. Shoshone County proactively emailed me this morning. They want to join our coordination process,” Commission Chairman Cornel Rasor said on Tuesday.
Commissioner Mike Nielsen also wants the U.S. Forest Service, which develops motorized access plans, to be involved in the coordination process.
“We need to be in communication with them and they need to be at the same table,” said Nielsen.
Fish & Wildlife announced last month that it intends to designate 375,562 acres of forest in Bonner, Boundary and Pend Oreille counties habitat for caribou. The agency is accepting public comment on the proposal until Jan. 30, 2012.
The proposed designation is attracting opposition from businesses at Priest Lake and forest access advocates. They fear the designation will further restrict recreational use of the forest and drive off business.
Fish & Wildlife estimates there are about 46 woodland caribou in the southern Selkirk Mountains, although Commissioner Lewie Rich thinks figure is merely a guess because staffing cuts have hampered the agency’s ability to adequately determine the population.
The Idaho Conservation League said the alarm at Priest Lake in undue and the “doom and gloom” scenarios people are predicting will not come to pass.
“The Selkirk Mountains are big enough that we can find places to both permit snowmobile use to occur and also to protect caribou. But if we’re going to get to that (point) we first need to determine what the habitat needs are,” said Brad Smith of ICL.
Smith said anything above 4,000 feet above sea level could be considered capable of supporting caribou, which require old-growth cedar, hemlock, spruce and fir forests.
However, not everything above 4,000 feet is old growth.
“The real important thing is what habitat above 4,000 feet is suitable because capable doesn’t necessarily mean it can support caribou,” Smith said.
Smith adds that the public, including commissioners, already have an avenue to influence the designation process.
“They opportunity to provide input is already there,” said Smith.
But Bob Davis of Elkins Resort contends public involvement is an illusion because the comments of an affected party carries the same weight as somebody from New York City.
“The public comment (process) is a sham,” Davis said
Rasor said the board has nothing against caribou, but feels national environmental regulation has completely disenfranchised human beings over the past 30 years.
“We have been left out,” said Rasor