Wildlife lovers are fortunate to find an abundance of wildlife in Idaho. While there’s an array of species to appreciate across the state, there are also many threats to their existence. Right now, there are multiple agency and court decisions that could determine the fate of some of our furry friends.
In 2019, the last of the caribou in the Selkirk Mountains were rounded up and taken to a captive breeding facility in British Columbia. The roundup triggered the Idaho State Snowmobile Association to file a motion to remove a court-ordered closure to snowmobile use in mountain caribou habitat on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. ISSA argued that the closure should be lifted because there are no longer any caribou left in the Selkirk Mountains. Advocates for the West opposed the motion on behalf of the Idaho Conservation League, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Selkirk Conservation Alliance and the Lands Council. Fortunately, the judge ruled that the closure could not be lifted until the Forest Service approves a winter recreation management plan that balances recreational use with the needs of caribou and other wildlife. While we hope that caribou are one day reintroduced into northern Idaho, there is still a need to protect this habitat for the wildlife that call it home.
Another animal facing loss of habitat is the tenacious wolverine. This is due to both climate change and expanding motorized recreation. In 2000, the Center For Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends Of The Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Rocky Mountain Wild and Idaho Conservation League petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to add the wolverine to the endangered species list. Since then, there have been a series of court cases related to the petition. Before leaving office, the Trump Administration decided that wolverines did not need protection under the Endangered Species Act. Represented by Earthjustice, we chose to challenge that decision. We are hopeful that the Biden Administration will be more sympathetic to the wolverine and will take steps to recover it.
The Biden Administration did disagree with a Trump Administration proposal in regards to another animal. If you’re a cat person, then you will be pleased to know that this disagreement was over a Trump Administration proposal to remove lynx from the endangered species list. The wild cat was added to the list in 2000 but a recovery plan was never written. Now, it looks like the Fish and Wildlife Service will finally write one. This recovery plan can help guide where and how forest restoration activities take place so lynx have sufficient habitat.
Like the lynx, grizzly bears have landed on the endangered species list. In 1975, grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 were added to the endangered species list. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have since asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the Yellowstone and Glacier populations from the list. While we agree that the recovery of grizzly bears in these two areas is an Endangered Species Act success story, ICL currently opposes delisting these populations. If Idaho’s management of wolves is any indication, then we know that the state will not maintain healthy grizzly bear populations.
Changes in wolf management in Idaho pose a serious threat to wolf populations. In a decision normally made by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Congress legislatively removed the Northern Rockies population of gray wolves from the endangered species list in 2011. In 2021, the Idaho Legislature went a step further. Ignoring Idaho Fish and Game’s wolf management plan, the Legislature removed practically all restrictions on wolf hunting and trapping. ICL joined a coalition of other groups in asking Secretary of Interior, Deb Haaland to utilize her authority and protect wolves for 240 days under emergency provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Also, ICL and our partners at the Endangered Species Coalition had already requested that the Fish and Wildlife Service initiate a ten-year status review of state actions, which the agency is now doing. An emergency listing would provide temporary protections and allow time for the states, the Fish and Wildlife Service and stakeholders to assess the situation and restore reasonable protections to gray wolves.
Also not faring well in Idaho are many sage-grouse populations. Over the last decade, the species has lost habitat to invasive annual grasses and wildfires. The Trump Administration stripped sage-grouse protections from Resource Management Plans that were approved by the Bureau of Land Management under the Obama Administration. A federal judge reversed the modifications made to the 2015 Resource Management Plans by the Trump Administration. Now, the Biden Administration is looking at strengthening them.
ICL will continue to be engaged in efforts to recover and sustain Idaho’s endangered species.
ICL’s Public Lands Director, John Robison also contributed to this blog post.