Trying to save the woodland caribou

The woodland caribou is a species of the far north which, in the past, roamed all across the northern tier of the United States. Today, it has been reduced in the lower 48 states to a small herd of about fifty animals that inhabit one remote area of the Northwest in Idaho and Washington. Most of the human residents in that area apparently can't wait for them to become extinct.

The animals are already listed as endangered and the lands where they roam are mostly owned by the federal or state governments, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in response to a lawsuit by environmental groups, proposes to further protect the animals by setting aside about 600 acres of land as "critical habitat" for them. Local residents are up in arms - almost literally - against the proposal.

At a recent public meeting, about 200 angry people showed up to accuse the government of trying to destroy their way of life. Allegations of  United Nations conspiracies and a governmental land grab flew around the room. As noted, most of the land is already federally owned but that made little difference to the shouters.

As Terry Harris of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance noted, this area is one of the few places left in the United States that still contains all of the species that were present when Lewis and Clark traveled through it 200 years ago, including the endangered caribou. He made the point that it is important not to lose that distinction. Still made no difference to the complainers. They want their "rights" respected and forget about the right to exist of any other residents of the land, even if they were there long before the current human inhabitants.

We've seen this drama play out many times before, and, though I don't want to pick on the West, it seems that it most often happens in that region - perhaps because that is where so many endangered species barely cling to life. It is also where much of the land is under federal control. And it seems to be an area which has a high percentage of residents who, for lack of a better word, are paranoid. Who else could see a desire to preserve an almost extinct herd of animals as a United Nations plot? Those people probably spend their days watching the skies searching for the invading black helicopters.

I confess I just don't understand such attitudes and probably never will. If I owned property that was important to the survival of a species, I like to think I would be amenable to working with the government to protect the species.

Well, in fact, I do own such property in the form of national wildlife refuges and other federal lands all over this country. Some of that property is located in Idaho and Washington. I would like to see it used to offer sanctuary to the severely endangered woodland caribou.      


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