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Lone Caribou Herd In Lower 48 Keeps Federal Protection

Steve Forrest
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday, a small herd of mountain caribou found in the Northwest will retain federal protection, but it will be as a threatened species rather than endangered.

These caribou are the last in the Lower 48 states. It's believed there are 20 to 30 of them left.

The Southern Selkirk Mountain caribou traverse the forested border between British Columbia and far eastern Washington and north Idaho. They're not a separate species from the others that roam Canada, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife considers them a distinct population.

Brad Smith of the Idaho Conservation League applauds the decision to keep the Selkirk caribou listed. He says the question is what happens next.

“I think it's really important that we get down to working on actual recovery of this species,” says Smith.

Snowmobilers, meanwhile, hope downlisting the caribou to threatened will lift some restrictions on recreation. Jonathan Wood of the Pacific Legal Foundation represented the Idaho State Snowmobile Association and Bonner County, Idaho, against the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It's at the very least a positive step in that the service acknowledged that the burdensome endangered listing was improper,” he says.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also reaffirmed 30,000 acres of critical habitat for the caribou in Idaho and Washington.