Judge sides with caribou, bans snowmobiles from some Idaho national forests

Mountain caribou celebrated last week as a judge banned snowmobiles from a nearly 470-square-mile caribou recovery zone in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. The ban will hold unless the U.S. Forest Service can develop a winter recreation strategy that would enable noisy, polluting vehicles and the last mountain caribou herd in the Lower 48 states to coexist harmoniously, ruled U.S. District Judge Robert H. Whaley. There are about three dozen of the caribou left in the area, with what Whaley called a “precarious finger-hold” on survival (although hoof-hold, we think, would have been more apt). Snowmobile interests blamed logging, backcountry skiing, and climate change for the shrinking herd; conservationists presented evidence that snowmobile noise frightens caribou from feeding and calving grounds, and argued that vehicle trails compact snow, leaving the caribou without deep-snow protection from predators. “The court chooses to be overprotective rather than under-protective,” Whaley wrote in his ruling.