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Steer clear of caribou areas

| December 4, 2010 8:00 PM

Snowmobilers should avoid closed habitat zones in forests

Snowmobilers are reminded to avoid areas that are closed due to caribou habitat in the region's national forests.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are 50 or fewer Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou roaming the region.

"Throughout the ongoing woodland caribou recovery efforts we have worked to keep the community informed and involved," said Ranotta Mcnair, Idaho Panhandle National Forests supervisor. "Without the support we have received from snowmobile groups and community members our ability to protect woodland caribou habitat would be severely limited."

The caribou, which have been protected under the Endangered Species List since 1984, are a medium-sized member of the deer family. They are susceptible to stress during the winter and contact with snowmobiles can place additional stress on the animals.

Agencies will be enforcing closures in the recovery areas this winter. A free map of legal snowmobile trails and open areas are available at the Forest Service office, 3815 Schreiber Way, Coeur d'Alene.

Caribou are found above 4,000 feet in Englemann spruce/subalpine fire and western red cedar/western hemlock forest types.

Several snowmobile clubs in the region assist agencies with monitoring the recovery areas and ensure that proper signage is maintained along trails, trail heads and near the borders of the recovery area. However, in some cases signs have been destroyed and a small percentage of snowmobile riders have violated closure orders.

Regulatory signs installed by state agencies and the Forest Service are currently posted at trail heads, at warming huts and at closed roads. These signs clearly mark areas that are open to snowmobiling and areas that are closed. Additional informational signs will be posted by the Fish and Wildlife Service to let people know the status of woodland caribou, what laws protect them and their habitat, and why protecting their habitat is important.

The woodland caribou population decline is largely due to historic habitat loss and fragmentation due to fires and logging, predation, collisions with vehicles and overharvest. Protecting the habitat of the woodland caribou has reduced the impact for most of these threats, but predation from mountain lions and other large predators remains the greatest threat to the caribou's population.