The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho (Kootenai Tribe) has moved to intervene in the litigation over the endangered woodland caribou.
Woodland caribou historically inhabited all of Kootenai Territory in what is now north Idaho, northeast Washington, northwest Montana and southeast British Columbia.
The Selkirk Mountain subpopulation was emergency listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1983 with a final listing in 1984. The Canadian federal government listed the entire southern mountain population of woodland caribou under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2002. The Selkirk Mountain subpopulation is the southernmost subpopulation of woodland caribou that exists primarily in British Columbia, but extends also into the United States.
While critical habitat is generally designated at the time of listing, in this case the United States Fish and Wildlife Service decided it was not prudent to do so in 1984 due to fears of poaching.
As a result of litigation filed by nongovernmental organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) was compelled to publish a proposed critical habitat rule in November, 2011.
The Service issued a final designation of over 30,000 acres in north Idaho and northeast Washington in November 2012 after receiving extensive comments from tribal and state government agencies and the public.
According to Gary Aitken, Jr., Chairman of the Kootenai Tribal Council, “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached the correct conclusion in its final critical habitat designation. Despite what the litigants claim, critical habitat is not the same as a recovery zone or area of historical use.”
The Kootenai Tribe, however, is not satisfied with just the critical habitat designation.
“The Kootenai Tribe wants actual caribou recovery and restoration throughout Kootenai Territory, which will not be accomplished by short-sighted use of ESA’s heavy hammer to force a critical habitat designation designed to prevent extinction,” Aitken said. “The Kootenai Tribe intends to gather with our government partners to begin recovery planning that will look at all limiting factors in Kootenai Territory and focus on all Kootenai species, not just caribou.
"A holistic approach to natural resource management is the only thing that will work for humans and animals alike. We hope we can get beyond this litigation so that our U.S. federal partners can join the effort and focus their limited resources on species recovery, not litigation or procedural efforts that do little to benefit the species and create conflict.”