The U.S. government is considering stripping a woodland caribou herd of its Endangered Species designation — the only herd that moves from southern Canada into the northern United States.
The southern Selkirk Mountains caribou herd ranges from around Nelson, B.C., to northern Idaho and northeastern Washington.
There's only about 45 of them left, and they are the only caribou that venture into the lower 48 states. They herd is currently treated as an endangered species along with other woodland caribou herds.
Daniel Himebaugh, a lawyer with the Washington-based Pacific Legal Foundation, represents Bonner County, Idaho, and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, who say the Selkirk herd's status puts a huge swath of American bush off-limits to them.
In the petition that was filed earlier this year with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the groups argued that the small herd never should have been designated endangered.
Himebaugh said the county and the snowmobilers face too many restrictions on the outdoors, and that the herd is not significant enough to warrant protection.
"When species are protected for erroneous reasons, what happens is over-regulation, which really doesn't help the species and, as we found out, can hurt people," Himebaugh said.
In response to the petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week a 90-day period to receive further submissions as it considers removing the endangered status of the Selkirk herd.
"Based on our review, we find that the petition presents substantial information indicating that delisting this population of the woodland caribou subspecies may be warranted," the notice said.
Two other petitions, one in 1993 and one in 2000, failed to convince the federal agency that it should consider delisting the Selkirk herd, which has been protected in the U.S. since being listed as endangered in 1984.
Noah Greenwald, the endangered species program director with the U.S.-based Center for Biological Diversity, wants the herd to keep its status.
"I think it's clear woodland caribou in the U.S. deserve our care and protection. They are likely the most endangered animal in the U.S. right now," Greenwald said.
The U.S. government will review scientific, commercial, and other information about caribou herd diversity and distinct populations submitted over the next three months, and will then issue a 12-month finding on whether the Selkirk herd is deserving of its status.
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