Anyone following the plight of Idaho’s lone mountain caribou herd may recall that back in 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a proposal to protect approximately 375,000 acres of “critical” caribou habitat in the Selkirk Mountains.

After receiving input from conservation groups, snowmobile clubs, the general public, and other agencies, local Fish and Wildlife Service staff reduced their proposal to approximately 227,000 acres.

That 227,000-acre plan would never see the light of day. Agency officials in Washington, D.C., caved to political pressure and winnowed the acreage in the final plan down to a mere 30,000 acres. No kidding.

ICL and several other conservation groups challenged the final critical habitat designation in federal court. Although Judge Lodge declined to rule on the question of whether or not 30,000 acres was sufficient to meet the biological needs of caribou, he concluded that the Fish and Wildlife Service erred by making such a substantial change to their proposal without gathering additional public input.

In a recent news bulletin, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the agency “is seeking public comment… to reaffirm the 2012 designation of critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou.”

At last count, the herd had declined to fourteen caribou. Emergency efforts are underway to save the remaining animals. In addition, the Service is drafting a revised recovery plan. The revised plan needs to be coupled with greater habitat protections if we ever hope to bring this herd back from the brink of extinction.