SALMON, Idaho Nov 28 The federal government on
Wednesday unveiled its final habitat protection plan for the
last U.S. woodland caribou, popularly known as wild reindeer,
reducing the amount of land to be set aside for the endangered
animal by more than 90 percent.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had proposed designating
375,000 acres (152,000 hectares) of old-growth forests in
northern Idaho and northeastern Washington state as critical
habitat for the caribou, restricting commercial development and
other human activities there.
But the final designation, which goes into effect on Dec.
28, scales back that designation to 30,000 acres (12,000
hectares). Just 27 woodland caribou are known to exist in the
Selkirk Mountains, which straddle the U.S.-Canadian border, but
only four were counted this winter on the U.S. side.
The Selkirk reindeer, close cousins of the caribou that
inhabit Alaska, were first listed as an endangered species in
The reduction from the original critical habitat proposal
came after Idaho's Republican leaders and groups promoting the
use of public lands for motorized recreation and commercial
operations objected to protections they said would limit such
activities as logging, hunting and snowmobiling.
Bryon Holt, a wildlife biologist for the Fish and Wildlife
Service, said the agency's downsizing was based on a revised
estimate of occupied habitat by a much reduced herd.
It is unknown how many of the reclusive woodland mammals
once inhabited the high country of Idaho, Washington and British
Columbia, but their numbers had dwindled to 30 when they were
formally added to the federal endangered species list in 1984.
Unlike other types of caribou, some of which live in Alaska,
the Selkirk herd inhabits elevations above 4,000 feet and rely
on old-growth forests for lichen, a chief source of food, and
protection from predators.
The greatest threat to survival of the animal is
fragmentation of its territory by logging, wildfires,
road-building and recreation trails, according to the Fish and
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Steve Gorman and