In the United States, woodland caribou once ranged from Maine to Washington state, but an isolated subspecies in northern Idaho and Washington's Selkirk Mountains is all that remains. The 30 to 50 caribou in the Southern Selkirk herd have been protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1983, but their numbers remain well below the target population of 125 ("Caribou population still too small," HCN, 11/14/94). In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed setting aside 375,000 acres as critical habitat, but snowmobilers, loggers and politicians objected. Last November, the protected area was slashed by more than 90 percent.
On Sept. 30, six environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a lawsuit against Fish and Wildlife, claiming that the abrupt reduction in habitat violates the Endangered Species Act. The 30,010 acres don't offer enough high-elevation old-growth forest, they say, and the reduction further shifts responsibility for the species' survival to Canada, where most of the world's woodland caribou now roam.