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Reprieve from machines for mountain caribou

Feb 14, 2007

The last remaining mountain caribou in the lower 48 states received some protection in a Valentine's Day ruling that allows the endangered caribou to migrate within their habitat, while still permitting snowmobiles in much of the Priest Lake region.

Ruling yields extra layer of protection for US caribou

Caribou need habitat away from winter recreationOn Valentine's Day, 2007, the last remaining mountain caribou in the lower 48 states received some protection when a court limited snowmobile use in their critical habitat. The ruling allows the endangered caribou to migrate from the northern to the southern areas of their habitat, while still permitting snowmobiles in much of the Priest Lake region. Mountain caribou are one of the most endangered large mammals in North America.

"Mountain caribou–especially with the uncertainty of climate change–need to be able to move freely within their old forest habitat. The court reaffirmed that these old-growth forest-dependent animals need habitat undisturbed by snowmobiles, " said Conservation Northwest's Joe Scott.

Like elk and other wildlife, caribou are most vulnerable in the winter when they are stressed by cold weather and deep snows. Snowmobiles and other recreational vehicles passing through caribou habitat have damaged the recovery area and put additional strains on the herd. The ruling allows snowmobiling in areas along the edges of the designated recovery area, and several trails within the recovery area, but prohibits recreational vehicles in the most essential areas of the caribou’s habitat.

Approximately 90% of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest is outside of the recovery zone and will not be impacted.

Conservation groups including Conservation Northwest originally took legal action against the Forest Service in 2005, arguing that the agency's winter recreation policies threatened caribou. In November 2006, conservation groups and snowmobilers reached an agreement on which play areas and trails needed to be closed off for the caribou's protection. But the court chose not to implement the agreement and instead moved for a trial, the outcome of which was determined in this most recent ruling by the Eastern District Court in Washington.

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