A comment in an article, Spokesman Review, June 22, 2012 entitled "Idaho Senators oppose expanded Caribou habitat” really hit a sore spot with me and I'm sure with many others. Mr. Brad Smith of the Idaho Conservation League stated, "I think that it's unfortunate that people aren't working together to find real solutions," referring to the possible designation of 375,562 acres of North Idaho forest as critical habitat for Caribou.
Let me go back to 1983 when several environmental groups asked for support for their Caribou recovery program. Many people I knew supported it, as I did. It seemed like a good course of action. Ten years into the program the gains in numbers were minuscule at best and at a tremendous cost. I can't quote actual costs because, it seems, no one knows how much was spent. The lack of success caused many people to question the intelligence of investing more funding for a failing program.
The Federal Government was involved through the Endangered Species Act, which probably did not help matters. In the 1990s, these same groups of environmentalists introduced the infamous Gray Wolf caper. It's interesting that I don't recall any group of environmentalists working with the farmers, ranchers or sportsmen groups on this project. The whole program was forced on the three states whether we wanted it or not. I can understand why the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Game and the Endangered Species people were all for it. It's called lifetime benefits and secure employment.
A problem was, much of the funding was spent needlessly because of redundancy of similar state jobs. What irritated many people was the fact that there were an estimated 60,000 Gray Wolves in North America at the time. There was no reason to list them as endangered. Gray Wolves now inhabit the same area as the few Woodland Caribou and that alone is a disaster for the Caribou. Do they really think that wolves don't eat caribou?
So, here is where we are. A huge amount of funding has been spent on the Caribou recovery program. The herd has increased from (2) in 1983 to (4) in 2012. The Gray Wolf has increased to a point that it is a predator out of control.
Environmental groups are pushing for more wolves and refuse to admit their mistake, nor will they work with others to control their numbers. Why are these environmental groups so hell bent on perpetuating a program that has not and will not work? If Mr. Smith’s group and others like it want support as they say, then present some sensible ideas. Obviously they have no expertise in game management whatsoever.
If you need ideas, try this on for size. Take the millions of dollars you intend to spend on multiple lawsuits, attorneys, influencing government employees etc. Present a suggestion to Washington State University to start a captive breeding program for Woodland Caribou. Get young people involved in future programs that will benefit the Caribou.
One last thing. Entice a Caribou expert from Finland, Norway or Sweden to come to the university to share the knowledge they already have. This might be the only way to preserve this species. Designating 375,000 acres of critical habitat for Caribou and Wolves is not the answer. Maybe 30 years down the road, but not now.
Dennis Johnson is a Hayden Lake resident.