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Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R1-ES-2011-0096: 4500030114]

RIN 1018-AX38

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for the Southern Selkirk Mountains Population of Woodland Caribou

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
ACTION: Final rule.
SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, designate critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) under the Endangered Species Act. In total, approximately 30,010 acres (12,145 hectares) is being designated as critical habitat. The critical habitat is located in Boundary County, Idaho, and Pend Oreille County, Washington. We are finalizing this action in compliance with our obligation under the Act and in compliance with a court-approved settlement agreement. The effect of this regulation is to conserve the habitat essential to the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou.
DATES: This rule becomes effective on December 28, 2012.
ADDRESSES: This final rule and the associated final economic analysis are available on the Internet athttp://www.regulations.gov.Comments and materials received, as well as supporting documentation used in preparing this final rule, are available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office, 1387 S. Vinnell Way, Room 368, Boise, ID 83709; telephone 208-378-5243; facsimile 208-378-5262.

The coordinates or plot points or both from which the map for this critical habitat designation was generated are included in the administrative record and are available athttp://www.fws.gov/idaho/SpeciesNews.htm,athttp://www.regulations.govat Docket No. FWS-R1-ES-2011-0096, and at the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office (seeFOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Any additional tools or supporting information developed for this critical habitat designation is available at the Fish and Wildlife Service Web site and Field Office set out above, and may also be onhttp://www.regulations.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brian Kelly, State Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office (seeADDRESSES). If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Executive Summary

Why we need to publish a rule.This is a final rule to designate critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), currently listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531et seq.) (Act). Under the Act, any species that is determined to be an endangered or threatened species requires critical habitat to be designated, to the maximum extent prudent and determinable. Designations and revisions of critical habitat can only be completed through rulemaking. The critical habitat area we are designating in this rule constitutes our current best assessment of the areas that meet the definition of critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. Here we are designating approximately 30,010 acres (ac) (12,145 hectares (ha)) in one unit within Boundary County, Idaho, and Pend Oreille County, Washington, as critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. This designation represents a reduction of approximately 345,552 ac (139,840 ha) from the critical habitat originally proposed for designation (76 FR 74018, November 30, 2011); and reflects a 1,000 foot (ft) (about 300 meter (m)) change in elevation from 4,000 ft (1,220 m) in the proposed rule, to an elevation at or above 5,000 ft (1,520 m) in the final critical habitat designation. Literature and information we have reviewed, and peer review comments received, confirm that although caribou may use elevations below 5,000 ft (1,520 m), habitats at this elevation and above are essential to their conservation. This revision is more fully explained in the “Criteria Used to Define Critical Habitat”section. The primary factors that were considered and influenced this change from the proposed rule included: (1) A revised determination of the geographical area occupied by the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou at the time of listing, based on comments we received, including peer reviewers, which caused us to reevaluate surveys conducted by Scott and Servheen (1984, 1985); (2) census monitoring documenting low numbers of individual caribou observed in the United States during those annual surveys; (3) caribou observations within the United States for several years have consistently been limited to areas close to the United States-Canada border; (4) information and literature reporting the overall decline of the subspecies mountain caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) across its range, and in particular the decline of woodland caribou populations in the southern extent of their range, including the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou; (5) information on areas currently conserved and managed for the conservation of woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia, Canada, including the status of the Canadian recovery actions for mountain caribou; and (6) the applicability as well as the status of the recovery objectives identified in the 1994 Selkirk Mountains Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan (USFWS 1994).

All of the area being designated as critical habitat is federally owned lands under management of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The areas being designated were occupied at the time of listing under the Act (49 FR 7390: February 29, 1984), and are essential to the conservation of the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou.

We have prepared an economic analysis of the designation of critical habitat.In order to consider economic impacts, we have prepared an analysis of the economic impacts of the critical habitat designation and related factors. We announced the availability of the draft economic analysis (DEA) in theFederal Registeron May 31, 2012 (77 FR 32075), allowing the public to provide comments on our analysis. We have incorporated the comments and have completed the final economic analysis (FEA) concurrently with this final determination.

Peer review and public comment.We sought comments from independent specialists to ensure that our designation is based on scientifically sound data and analyses. We obtained opinions from four knowledgeable individuals with scientific expertise to review our technical assumptions, analysis, and whether or not we had used the best available information. These peer reviewers provided additional information, clarifications, and suggestions to improve this final rule. Information we received from peer review is incorporated in this final critical habitat designation. We also considered all comments andinformation received from the public during the comment periods.

Background

It is our intent to discuss in this final rule only those topics directly relevant to the development and designation of critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou under the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531et seq.). For more information on the biology and ecology of the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou, refer to the final listing rule published in theFederal Registeron February 29, 1984 (49 FR 7390), and the 1985 final recovery plan (USFWS 1985), which was revised in 1994 (USFWS 1994), and is available from the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office (seeADDRESSESsection). For information on southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou proposed critical habitat, refer to the proposed rule published in theFederal Registeron November 30, 2011 (76 FR 74018). Information on the associated DEA for the proposed rule to designate revised critical habitat was published in theFederal Registeron May 31, 2012 (77 FR 32075).

Nomenclature

In 1984, we published a final rule listing the transboundary population of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) found in Idaho, Washington, and southern British Columbia, “ * * * sometimes known as the southern Selkirk Mountain herd” (49 FR 7390; February 29, 1984). At that time woodland caribou, including the transboundary population, were a recognized subspecies of caribou (R. tarandus). Within the woodland caribou subspecies, caribou populations are often further divided into three different “ecotypes”: Boreal, northern, and mountain, based on differences in habitat use, feeding behavior, and migration patterns (Hatter 2000, p. 631; Mountain Caribou Science Team 2005, p. 1).

The southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou is included within the mountain caribou ecotype (mountain caribou) that currently occupies southeastern British Columbia (B.C.), northern Idaho, and northeastern Washington near the international border to northeast of Prince George (Wittmeret al.2005, p. 408). The mountain caribou ecotype is distinguished from other woodland caribou ecotypes by behavioral and ecological characteristics, rather than genetic characteristics that conclude all woodland caribou ecotypes are genetically similar (Mountain Caribou Science Team 2005, p. 1). The mountain caribou ecotype is closely associated with high-elevation, late-successional, coniferous forests where their primary winter food, arboreal lichens, occurs.

The term “mountain caribou” is a common designation used throughout the scientific literature to describe the mountain/arboreal-lichen feeding ecotype of woodland caribou populations found in the mountainous regions of southeastern British Columbia, including the transboundary southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou (Mountain Caribou Science Team 2005, p. 1). In this final rule, use of the term mountain caribou refers to descriptions of the subspecies woodland caribou in general, and we use the term southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou when referencing the listed transboundary population.

Previous Federal Actions

In 1980, the Service received petitions to list the South Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou as endangered under the Endangered Species Act from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) and Dean Carrier, a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) staff biologist and former chairman of the International Mountain Caribou Technical Committee (IMCTC). At that time, the population was believed to consist of 13 to 20 animals (48 FR 1722). Following a review of the petition and other data readily available, the southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou population in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, and southeastern B.C. was listed as endangered under the Act's emergency procedures on January 14, 1983 (48 FR 1722). A second emergency rule was published on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49245), and a final rule listing the southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou population as endangered was published on February 29, 1984 (49 FR 7390). The designation of critical habitat was determined to be not prudent at that time, since increased poaching could result from the publication of maps showing areas used by the species. A Management Plan/Recovery Plan for Selkirk Caribou was approved by the Service in 1985 (USFWS 1985), and revised in 1994 (USFWS 1994).

Notices of 90-day findings on two petitions to delist the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou were published in theFederal Registeron November 29, 1993 (58 FR 62623), and November 1, 2000 (65 FR 65287). Both petitions were submitted by Mr. Peter B. Wilson, representing the Greater Bonners Ferry Chamber of Commerce, in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Our response to both petitions stated that the petitions did not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that delisting of the woodland caribou may be warranted.

On August 17, 2005, a complaint was filed in Federal district court challenging two biological opinions issued by the Service, and USFS management actions within southern Selkirk Mountains caribou habitat and the recovery area. The plaintiffs included Defenders of Wildlife, Conservation Northwest, the Lands Council, Selkirk Conservation Alliance, Idaho Conservation League, and Center for Biological Diversity. The lawsuit challenged, in part, no jeopardy biological opinions on the USFS Land and Resource Management Plans for the Idaho Panhandle (IPNF) and Colville (CNF) National Forests, and the USFS' failure to comply with the incidental take statements in the biological opinions.

In December 2005, the Court granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting snowmobile trail grooming within the caribou recovery area on the IPNF during the winter of 2005-2006. In November 2006, the Court granted a modified injunction restricting snowmobiling and snowmobile trail grooming on portions of the IPNF within the southern Selkirk Mountains caribou recovery area. On February 14, 2007, the Court ordered a modification of the current injunction to add a protected caribou travel corridor connecting habitat in the United States portion of the southern Selkirk Mountains with habitat in British Columbia. This injunction is currently in effect, pending the completion of section 7 consultation on the IPNF's proposed winter travel plan.

On April 11, 2006, a notice of initiation of 5-year reviews for 70 species in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii, and Guam was published in theFederal Register(69 FR 18345), including the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. The Southern Selkirk Mountains Caribou Population 5-Year Review was completed December 5, 2008 (USFWS, 2008a).

On December 6, 2002, the Defenders of Wildlife, Lands Council, Selkirk Conservation Alliance, and Center for Biological Diversity (plaintiffs) petitioned the Service to designate critical habitat for the endangered southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. On February 10, 2003, we acknowledged receipt of the plaintiff's petition, and stated we were unable to address the petition at thattime due to budgetary constraints. On January 15, 2009, a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief (Defenders of Wildlife et al.,v.Salazar,CV-09-15-EFS) was filed in Federal District Court, alleging that the Service's failure to make a decision more than 6 years after the petition was submitted violated the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 551-559, 701-706). In a stipulated settlement agreement, we agreed to make a critical habitat prudency determination, and if determined to be prudent, to submit a proposed critical habitat rule to theFederal Registeron or before November 20, 2011, which was accomplished. We also agreed to deliver a final critical habitat rule to theFederal Registerby November 20, 2012.

A proposed rule (76 FR 74018) to designate approximately 375,562 ac (151,985 ha) as critical habitat in Boundary and Bonner Counties in Idaho, and Pend Oreille County in Washington was submitted to theFederal Registeron November 20, 2011, and published on November 30, 2011.

On May 9, 2012, we received a petition dated May 9, 2012, from Bonner County, Idaho, and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, which calls into question whether the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou is a listable entity under the Act. We are developing a response to that petition.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

We requested written comments from the public on the proposed designation of critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou during three comment periods. The first comment period, associated with the publication of the proposed rule (76 FR 74018), opened on November 30, 2011, and closed on January 30, 2012. We contacted Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies, scientific organizations, and other interested parties and invited them to comment on the proposed rule. In response to a request we received during the first public comment period from Idaho's Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and Boundary County, Idaho, to allow the public more time to submit comments and to hold an informational session and public hearing, we opened a second comment period on March 21, 2012 (77 FR 16512), for an additional 60 days. The Service-hosted informational session and public hearing were held in Bonner's Ferry, Idaho, on April 28, 2012. A third public comment period, associated with the publication of the DEA of the proposed designation and an amended required determinations section, opened on May 31, 2012, and closed on July 2, 2012 (77 FR 32075). The Service hosted an additional informational session and public hearing during this comment period on June 16, 2012, in Coolin, Idaho.

In acknowledgement of our responsibility to work directly with tribes, and to make information available regarding the proposed critical habitat designation, the Service met with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho on January 9, 2012, in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, and participated on conference calls with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho on May 24, 2012. The Service also discussed the proposal with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians on several occasions, including February 23, March 12, and April 26, 2012.

The Service also responded to several requests for public information and coordination meetings, including: (1) the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative (KVRI) on January 9, 2012, in Bonners Ferry, Idaho; (2) the Bonner County Commissioners on January 24, February 28, March 26, and June 4, 2012, in Bonner County, Idaho; and (3) the Boundary County Commissioners on April 19, 2012, in Boundary County, Idaho.

During the first 60-day comment period, we received 172 comment letters addressing the proposed critical habitat designation. During the second 60-day comment period, we received an additional 118 comments from individuals or organizations, with an additional 37 written or oral comments provided at the April 28, 2012, public hearing in Bonner's Ferry, Idaho. During the third and final comment period, we received 10 comments on the proposal and the DEA, and testimony from 11 individuals at the public hearing.

During the public comments periods, comments were received from Federal, State, and local agencies, peer reviewers with scientific expertise, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, the Canadian Government, private citizens, nongovernmental organizations, private companies, business owners, elected officials, recreational user groups, commercial and trade organizations, and others. Approximately 60 unique individual comments received were generally supportive of the proposed rule, while approximately 70 unique individual comments were in opposition to the proposed rule. Through campaigns sponsored by nongovernmental organizations, we received an additional 64,258 comments in support of the proposed designation consisting entirely of template letters.

The Service received many comments outside the scope of this rulemaking, including issues such as: (a) Threats to the species such as recreation, fires, and road building, management and control of predators and or prey species, previous actions taken by the Service to introduce or protect other listed species such as gray wolves (Canis lupus), grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis), Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), and others (see further discussion below); (b) strengths or weaknesses of the Endangered Species Act, and whether the Act should be changed or eliminated; (c) the taxonomic description of the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou, its current listing status as an endangered species, and whether the population is extinct; (d) a recent petition received by the Service to delist the species; (e) addressing Highway 3 in Canada as a migration barrier; (f) hunting practices or regulations; and (g) that the proposed rule to designate critical habitat is in response to an “agenda” put forth by “environmental groups.”

We received numerous comments specific to the threat of predation on the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou, with many stating that gray wolves and other species such as grizzly bear, black bear (Ursus americanus), Canada lynx, and others are preying on caribou and should be managed. The Service acknowledges that predation is one of several important factors affecting this population of woodland caribou. In fact, predation is discussed frequently in the proposed rule, including underPhysical or Biological Features(PBFs), where we described the need for: (1) Caribou to disperse in low numbers at high elevation; (2) large contiguous areas to avoid predators; and (3) female caribou to be able to access high-elevation alpine areas for calving, which are likely to be predator free. Predation is also addressed in the 1994 Recovery Plan (USFWS 1994) as a factor potentially affecting the status of the caribou population. Although addressing the threat of predation is outside of the scope of this rule, the Service agrees that successful caribou conservation and recovery efforts will need to address predation on the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou, which will require effective coordination with other Federal and State agencies, the Coleville and Idaho Panhandle National Forests, tribes, and Canada.

Similarly, we received numerous comments regarding the effectiveness of past augmentation efforts to supplement the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou, which were conducted by the Service, Canada, and State wildlife agencies. Efforts to augment the existing woodland caribou population with 103 animals from source herds in British Columbia between 1987 and 1990, and 1996 and 1998, have not resulted in a long-term improvement in caribou distribution throughout the southern Selkirk Mountains. A large number of the transplanted caribou died within the first year of augmentation, and there has been no long term increase in the population (USFWS 2008a). The number of woodland caribou detected in the United States has continued to dwindle, and annual census surveys continue to find the bulk of the remaining population occupying habitats in British Columbia. The most recent census information demonstrates a decline from 46 caribou in 2009 to 27 animals in 2012, although the cause of this decline has not been described (Degroot and Wakkinen 2012, p.2). The 2011 survey documented zero caribou in the United States, and the 2012 survey documented 4 caribou on Little Snowy Top Mountain, Idaho. No other tracks were observed in the United States (DeGroot and Wakkinen 2012, p. 5).

Although important and integral to the population's recovery, addressing threats such as predation, as well as efforts to stabilize or increase the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou, are outside of the scope of this rulemaking. These issues will be addressed, as appropriate, within the scope of recovery actions for this species. For the purposes of this rulemaking, we are fully considering and responding to comments related to the proposed critical habitat designation and DEA. Although other comments are acknowledged and appreciated, we have not specifically responded to those that are outside of the scope of the proposed rule.

All substantive information provided during comment periods has either been incorporated directly into this final determination or addressed below. Comments received were grouped into 20 general issues specifically relating to the proposed critical habitat designation for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou, and are addressed in the following summary and incorporated into the final rule as appropriate.

Peer Review

In accordance with our policy published on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), we solicited expert opinions from four knowledgeable individuals with scientific expertise that included familiarity with the species, the geographic region in which the species occurs, and conservation biology principles. We received responses from all four peer reviewers.

We reviewed all comments received from the peer reviewers for substantive issues and new information regarding critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. The peer reviewers had differing assessments of our methods and conclusions, and provided additional information, clarifications, and suggestions to improve the final critical habitat rule. Peer reviewer comments are addressed in the following summary and incorporated into the final rule as appropriate.

Peer Review Comments

(1)Comment:One peer reviewer commented that the proposed rule was very thorough and accurate, but the reviewer did not submit any additional comments. The three peer reviewers who did provide substantive comments stated that the entire area we proposed for designation as critical habitat was not likely occupied by the species at the time of listing, and stated that the February 29, 1984, final rule listing the species (49 FR 7390) did not define “occupancy”, but rather identified a “total approximate area of normal utilization” within the conterminous United States (U.S.). These peer reviewers primarily point to aerial surveys and telemetry studies of radio-collared caribou at the time of listing (Scott and Servheen 1984) as the basis for their comment on occupancy. This study documented caribou primarily utilizing habitat in British Columbia, (B.C.), Canada, and those areas in the United States immediately adjacent to the international boundary with Canada. This was a comment also made by the State of Idaho, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and numerous other public commenters.

Our Response:In developing our proposed critical habitat rule, we reviewed the final listing rule (49 FR 7390) to identify the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou at the time of listing. These areas also contained the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of these caribou, which may require special management considerations or protections, and therefore met the definition of critical habitat under section 3(5)(A) of the Act. Neither the January 14, 1983, emergency listing (48 FR 1722), nor the February 29, 1984, final listing rule (49 FR 7390), defined “occupancy”, but these rules did refer to the “approximate area of utilization” (48 FR 1723), and “area of normal utilization” (49 FR 7390). We therefore equated “occupancy at the time of listing” with the “approximate area of utilization” and “area of normal utilization” in the proposed rule. However, comments submitted by the peer reviewers caused us to reexamine the basis of our analysis pertaining to the geographical area occupied by the species in 1983.

Scott and Servheen (1984, p. 16; 1985, p. 27), state the following in the background section of their job progress reports on caribou ecology: “As the number of U.S. sightings declined since the early 1970's, concern has mounted that caribou may be abandoning the U.S. portion of their range.” Scott and Servheen (1984, 1985, entire), conducted studies of radio-collared caribou to determine population numbers and composition, and helicopter surveys over significant areas of the Selkirk Mountains within the historic range of woodland caribou in an effort to: (1) Estimate the population size and sex/age composition; (2) determine mortality rates and causes; (3) determine reproductive rates and calving areas; (4) determine seasonal use areas; (5) identify seasonal and year-long habitat utilization patterns; (6) estimate seasonal caribou food habitat preferences; and (7) attempt to achieve a total count of the population. The helicopter surveys covered extensive areas of potential woodland caribou habitat within the Selkirk Mountains in Idaho and Washington (Scott and Servheen 1984, pp. 74-75). During their study, Scott and Servheen (1984, pp. 16-28) documented extensive use by caribou of habitat in Canada, with two bulls utilizing habitat near Little Snowy Top and Upper Hughes Ridge in Idaho and Sullivan Creek in Washington (p. 19). They did not document any caribou further south within Washington or Idaho during the course of the helicopter surveys. We are relying on Scott and Servheen survey results to determine occupancy at the time of listing, since the surveys were conducted during the timeframe in which the population was listed. Consequently, we have determined that the area generally depicted in Scott and Servheen (1984, p. 27), adjusted forelevation and habitat based on the seasonal habitat suitability model developed by Kinley and Apps (2007, entire) for the southern Selkirk Mountains ecosystem, represents the best available scientific information regarding the geographical area occupied by the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou at the time of listing. Based on the best available information, we are designating 30,010 ac (12,145 ha) of critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou in the United States. These areas were known to be occupied at the time of listing in 1983 and 1984, they are essential to the conservation of the species, they require special management, and they therefore meet the definition of critical habitat under section 3(5)(A)(i) of the Act.

(2)Comment:One peer reviewer commented that the characterization of six seasonal habitats (early winter, late winter, spring, calving, summer, and fall) for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou in the proposed rule was inaccurate, as it is based on older scientific information, and suggested more recent scientific information describing caribou seasonal habitats based on distinct shifts in caribou elevation use is a more proper characterization of caribou seasonal habitats.

Our Response:We agree and have changed the seasonal definitions in the final rule to reflect the five seasonal definitions identified by Kinley and Apps (2007), which are: Early winter (October 17 to January 18), late winter (January 19 to April 19), spring (April 20 to July 7), calving (June 1 to July 7), and summer (July 8 to October 16).

(3)Comment:Two peer reviewers commented that the proposed rule inaccurately identifies early winter as the season during which caribou typically make the longest within-season (intra-seasonal) landscape movements. One peer reviewer noted that the stated range from several to 30 mi (48 km) of movement during the winter season in the proposed rule was inaccurate as well. Both reviewers referenced research conducted by Wakkinen and Slone (2010), which analyzed seasonal movement patterns of radio-collared caribou from 1988 to 2006, and found that caribou typically make the longest movements during spring and summer seasons. One peer reviewer noted that Wakkinen and Slone's (2010) analysis did not detect any difference in the median distance of movement by caribou between seasons (interseasonal).

Our Response:The identification of winter seasonal movement distances stated in the proposed rule was obtained from a USFS report (USFS 2004, p. 22), which used a compilation of historic and more recent anecdotal observations of caribou movements and radio-collared caribou to provide a range for caribou movements. Wakkinen and Slone's (2010) analysis, which is based on over 4,000 radio telemetry points obtained from 66 individual caribou over an 18-year period from 1988 to 2006, provided median values for intra- and interseasonal movements. As Wakkinen and Slone's (2010) report is more recent and is scientifically robust, we have incorporated their findings into the language of this final rule.

(4)Comment:One peer reviewer commented that the proposed rule's characterization of early and late winter habitats as being the most important habitats to caribou and the most limiting type of habitats on the landscape, is not supported by the science, as there is a high degree of overlap between the seasonal habitats. Given the high degree of overlap and importance of all seasonal habitats on the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou recovery, it would be difficult to prioritize early and late winter habitats as having overriding importance to caribou or as being more limited on the landscape than are other seasonal habitats.

Our Response:We acknowledge that, from a purely geographical standpoint, Kinley and Apps (2007) habitat modeling demonstrated a high degree of overlap between caribou seasonal habitats, and that all seasonal habitats are important to caribou. From a physiological and nutritional standpoint, early and late winter seasonal habitat foraging opportunities can be restricted by snow conditions depending on the variability of snowpack in any given year, and therefore are generally less available than summer and spring habitats and foraging opportunities. During summer and spring seasons, the physical ability of caribou to move is much less restricted, and there is a wider assortment and more availability of foraging plants available to caribou. During early and late winter, snow conditions and depths restrict caribou movement and foraging opportunities. In late winter, caribou must subsist almost entirely upon arboreal lichens, which are typically provided by mature subalpine fir stands with appropriate moisture conditions. Additionally, winter conditions (cold temperatures, deep snow) impose high energetic costs to caribou. Thus, from a physiological and nutritional standpoint, early and late winter habitats are very important to caribou and may be more limited to caribou. However, notwithstanding the above discussion, we understand the importance of high-quality spring and summer forage habitat at contributing to the ability of female caribou to calve and support their calves or to enter the breeding season in good physiological condition to survive the harsh winter conditions.

(5)Comment:One peer reviewer commented that language in the proposed rule implying that the ecotone between the subalpine fir/Engelmann spruce and cedar/hemlock zone occurs at around 4,000 ft (1,220 m) in elevation is inaccurate, and that the ecotone actually occurs approximately between the elevational band of 4,900 and 5,000 ft (1,490 and 1,520 m) (i.e.,a 100-foot elevational band ecotone).

Our Response:We agree, and we have provided the following clarification to that portion of the Primary Constituent Elements (PCE) in this final designation. According to Art Zack (USFS, pers. comm. 2012): “In the Selkirk ecosystem, the average boundary between cedar/hemlock Vegetation Response Units (VRU) groups and subalpine fir VRU groups (or habitat type groups) is approximately 5,100 ft (1,550 m) elevation. However, this break will vary from place to place based on aspect, topography, landform, cold air drainage patterns, and local weather patterns. Based on a sample of 100 points on the break between these 2 groups, the standard deviation of this variation in the elevation break between these 2 categories was approximately 300 ft (90 m) in elevation. In very limited circumstances, lower elevation drainage bottoms that are below a high ridge and that have restricted cold air drainage out of the valley bottom, may have subalpine fir habitat types over 1,000 ft (30 m) lower in elevation than the normal boundary. However, these are very restricted geographically, and are typically linear features confined to the very lower valley bottom. Where two different VRU's or habitat type groups meet, it is often not a distinct hard line between the two types, but rather an ecotone where the two types gradually intergrade. On average, the estimated ecotone width between the subalpine fir habitat types and the lower elevation habitat type may be 200 ft (61 m) in elevation. However that ecotone width varies depending upon local environmental characteristics.”

(6)Comment:One peer reviewer noted that our definition of calving habitat in the proposed rule as comprising high-elevation, old-growthforest ridgetops was too narrow and should also include high elevation alpine and non-forested areas in close proximity to forested mature and old-growth ridge tops as well as high elevation basins. The peer reviewer pointed to research demonstrating that caribou in the Selkirk Mountains use alpine scree sites as well as exposed cliff faces (Warren 1990; Allen 1998), and noted that the broader definition of calving habitat is supported by the analysis conducted by Kinley and Apps (2007), who demonstrated that pregnant females showed a preference for alpine at all scales and that, at the finest scale, caribou did not avoid non-forested conditions.

Our Response:We agree, and we have provided clarification to that portion of the PCE to identify that calving habitat includes more areas such as high-elevation basins in this final critical habitat designation.

(7)Comment:Two peer reviewers commented that the proposed rule's characterization of caribou movements during the spring and summer was inaccurate. Language in the proposed rule stated that during the spring and summer caribou move to lower elevations to forage on grasses, flowering plants, horsetails, willow and dwarf birch leaves and tips, sedges, and lichens in subalpine meadows (Paquet 1997, pp. 13, 16). The peer reviewers noted that Paquet (1997) also stated, “in summer, mountain caribou move back to mid- and upper elevation spruce/alpine fir forests.”

Our Response:We agree, and we have provided language clarifying the discussion of summer and spring caribou movements in this final critical habitat designation.

(8)Comment:One peer reviewer commented that caribou spring habitat findings reported in Kinley and Apps (2007) conflicts with the spring habitat discussion in the proposed rule, which is based on the 1994 Recovery Plan (USFWS 1994), and Scott and Servheen's (1985) and Servheen and Lyon's (1989) research. The proposed rule stated that in spring caribou move to areas with green vegetation, and that these areas may overlap with early and late winter ranges at mid to lower elevations. The peer reviewer stated that Kinley and App's (2007) finding that caribou select for open-canopied stands of older subalpine fir/spruce habitats with high solar insolation at all scales with use of alpine and nonforested areas at broad scales only, conflicts with Scott and Servheen's (1985) research as it is referenced in the proposed rule.

Our Response:We do not interpret Kinley and App's (2007) findings as being in disagreement with our statement in the proposed rule that caribou will seek out areas with green vegetation in spring. We stated previously that there is a high degree of overlap between seasonal habitats, and caribou will seek out green vegetation in the spring regardless of whether it occurs in sivilculturally treated (i.e.,partial cut, clear-cut, seed/sapling) stands, natural openings within the forest canopy, or open-canopied stands.

(9)Comment:One peer reviewer stated the proposed rule incorrectly cited Stevensonet al.(2001) and Kinley and Apps (2007), as referring to western hemlock/western red cedar forests providing summer range for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. Another peer reviewer commented that the proposed rule's description of summer habitat should also identify the importance and use of permanent lakes, bogs, and fens by caribou for feeding and bedding sites in the summer and fall months, as documented through research conducted by Freddy 1974; Johnsonet al.1977 and 1980; Warren 1990; and Allen 1998. One peer reviewer commented that the proposed rule's use of fall habitat to characterize seasonal habitat for caribou is inconsistent with the seasonal habitat definitions in Kinley and Apps (2007), which is considered to provide the best available scientific information on habitat and seasons of use by the southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou.

Our Response:We have corrected and clarified this statement in this final critical habitat designation to reflect that subalpine fir and spruce forests provide summer range for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. We have removed the reference to hemlock/western red cedar forests as providing summer habitat. The final designation reflects that subalpine fir and spruce fir forests provide summer range for this species. Relative to the description of summer and fall habitat, we have expanded this description in this final designation. Regarding reference to fall habitats, as noted previously in our response to Comment 2, we have revised the seasonal habitat definitions in this final designation to be consistent with Kinley and Apps (2007).

(10)Comment:Two peer reviewers acknowledge that the proposed rule correctly identifies travel corridors as important habitat features supporting connectivity of seasonal caribou habitats. Both reviewers, however, suggested the travel corridor discussion in the proposed rule could be refined through more comprehensive consideration and interpretation of the available scientific information. One reviewer noted that Freddy (1974) identified specific routes in British Columbia that the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou used repeatedly, which were natural passes along ridges, stream bottoms, forested areas, and areas connecting feeding and resting areas. The reviewer also noted that Freddy (1974) identified caribou movement from Kootenay Pass, British Columbia southward to Snowy Top Mountain, and from Monk Creek and Nun Creek, British Columbia to Continental Mountain via the Upper Priest River/American Falls drainage. Both reviewers noted that Wakkinen and Slone (2010) modeled travel corridors between areas of high- quality caribou habitat utilizing habitat quality maps developed by Kinley and Apps (2007).

Our Response:The southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou is a transboundary species that travels between British Columbia and the United States. We acknowledge the importance of maintaining habitat connectivity between British Columbia and the United States, and although we do not designate critical habitat in foreign countries, we have included a travel corridor modeled by Wakkinen and Slone (2010) that facilitates caribou movement between patches of high-quality habitat in the Unites States including Little Snowy Top Mountain in Idaho, and the Salmo Priest Wilderness in Washington, and connects with the Stagleap Provincial Park in British Columbia.

(11)Comment:One peer reviewer provided several scientific citations (Freddy 1974; Scott and Servheen 1985; Rominger and Oldemeyer 1989; Warrenet al.1996; and Allen 1998), and suggested the available science on the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou indicates the appropriate elevation cutoff to identify critical early-winter habitat for this population is 4,500 ft (1,372 m).

Our Response:We agree that these citations provide additional scientific information in conjunction with other scientific literature, as well as peer review and substantive public comments, to determine the appropriate critical habitat elevation boundaries. However, there is a lot of uncertainty in making a designation of an “absolute” elevational point with which to designate critical habitat for a species such as the southern Selkirk Mountains population of caribou. Literature and information we reviewed, (such as Scott and Servheen 1984, 1985; MCTAC 2002; McKinley and Apps 2007; Wakkinenand Slone 2010), and additional peer reviewer comments, indicate that although caribou have been known to use elevations below 5,000 ft (1,520 m), only habitats at 5,000 ft (1,520 m) in elevation and above are essential to caribou. The final critical habitat designation includes areas at 5,000 ft (1,520 m) and higher in elevation, based on the best available scientific information (see “Criteria Used To Identify Critical Habitat”).

(12)Comment:One peer reviewer suggested the proposed rule lacked a complete discussion on potential sources of disturbance to the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. The reviewer suggested that other forms of human-caused disturbance during nonwinter months, in addition to snowmobiling impacts during winter, may be an important consideration in the conservation of caribou. Specifically, the reviewer stated “* * * high elevation basins that include meadows and riparian areas are preferred habitat by woodland caribou. Such areas are often snow-free earlier in the season, provide good visibility, and include an abundance of arboreal lichen, grasses, and forbs. This makes them ideal habitat for caribou in general, and especially cows with calves. These areas also provide some of the most popular recreation destinations for backpacking, hiking and camping from July through October, with significantly increasing human use observed over the last two decades due to publicity from local advertisement and guide books.” The reviewer also noted that the Service's 2001 Amended Biological Opinion for the continued implementation of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests (IPNF) Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) stated that increasing pressure during both winter and summer was decreasing habitat effectiveness for caribou (USFWS 2001, p. 17). The reviewer noted that several scientific documents support this presumption: Allen (1998) and Warren (1990) made field observations of transplanted caribou; Dumont (1993) concluded that interactions between caribou and hikers on preferred summer range likely increased caribou susceptibility to predation by pushing caribou into areas of reduced visibility; and Wittmer (2005), Comptonet al.(1995), and Wakkinen and Johnson (2000) noted caribou are most susceptible to mortality from predation during the summer months.

Our Response:We appreciate the additional information provided to us by the peer reviewer. Although the intent of the proposed rule, as well as the final rule, is not to describe the threats to the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou in a comprehensive manner, we have expanded our discussion to include other recreational forms of potential displacement and disturbance of caribou in thePhysical or Biological Featurediscussion within “Habitats That Are Protected From Disturbance or Are Representative of the Historical, Geographical, and Ecological Distributions of a Species” portion of this final critical habitat designation.

(13)Comment:One peer reviewer questioned the proposed rule's statement that the ongoing loss and fragmentation of contiguous old-growth forests and forest habitat on National Forest System (NFS) lands within the caribou recovery zone is a result of a combination of timber harvest, road development, and wildfires. The reviewer stated that, due to a variety of policy and management decisions (e.g.,grizzly bear management guidelines, woodland caribou management guidelines), timber harvest on NFS lands within the caribou recovery zone is virtually nonexistent, and many roads have been decommissioned. Therefore, fragmentation and loss of caribou habitat within the caribou recovery zone on NFS lands due to timber harvesting and road construction has been greatly reduced over historical conditions. The reviewer also commented that the proposed rule failed to adequately consider the role that natural wildfire plays within this ecosystem as an agent of change and resetting natural succession on the landscape, because language in the proposed rule advocates the development of management actions to minimize the potential for wildfire, and the implementation of rapid response measures when wildfire occurs. The reviewer noted that wildfire is a natural disturbance agent within this ecosystem, which facilitates the development and maintenance of habitat for other listed species (e.g.,grizzly bear and white bark pine (Pinus albicaulis)), and that historical and recent fire suppression management actions and policies have adversely affected these species. Additionally, the reviewer commented that landscape analyses of changes in vegetation over time demonstrate an increase and/or maintenance in the amount and distribution of large-size classes of subalpine fir and moist, mixed-conifer (cedar, hemlock, grand fir, and larch forest), indicating a pattern ecosystem recovery from the large 1880 to 1890 and 1910 to 1946 wildfires that impacted caribou habitat.

Our Response:We acknowledge that implementation of southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou management standards and guidelines, grizzly bear access management standards and guidelines, as well as other management decisions, such as the 2008 Modified Idaho Roadless Rule and 2007 Northern Rockies Lynx Amendment, have reduced loss and fragmentation of old-growth forests on NFS lands within the area that was proposed for designation as critical habitat, over historical conditions. Implementation of these management decisions have and will continue to benefit caribou and caribou habitat. However, these management decisions do not prevent road construction or timber harvest (including old-growth forests) within the areas being designated as critical habitat under all circumstances. Thus, continued loss and fragmentation of caribou habitat (including old-growth forests) in an ecosystem that has been significantly altered from historical forest conditions continues to be a primary long-term threat to caribou. We agree that many acres of spruce/fir and cedar/hemlock forests that were set back to an early successional stage by large, historical, stand-replacement fires are in various stages of developing tree species and stand structure characteristics that are representative of late-successional spruce/fir and cedar hemlock forests through natural successional processes. Nonetheless, we acknowledge that natural wildfire plays an important role in maintaining a mosaic of forest successional stages that provides habitat for a variety of species endemic to this ecosystem, and that fire suppression can alter vegetative mosaics and species composition. Therefore, in this critical habitat designation we have incorporated language addressing the importance of developing and implementing a wildland fire use plan to allow for the nonsuppression of naturally ignited fires when appropriate, and the implementation of a prescribed fire program.

Comments From States

Section 4(i) of the Act states, “the Secretary shall submit to the State agency a written justification for his failure to adopt regulations consistent with the agency's comments or petition.” Comments received from the State of Idaho regarding the proposal to designate critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou are addressed below.

(14)Comment:The State of Idaho questioned the appropriateness ofdesignating critical habitat based on a lower elevation of 4,000 ft (1,219 m), stating that caribou seldom use areas as low as this elevation. The State of Idaho referred to studies that report mean elevation use for caribou in the south Selkirk Mountains to be approximately 5,500 ft (1,675 m).

Our Response:We received numerous comments in addition to the State of Idaho regarding the science we used and synthesized to develop the proposed designation. We utilized all substantive input from these commenters in refining the designation (including the appropriate elevation boundary) of critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou in this final rule. The elevations that were identified in the proposed rule have been revised in this final rule (see Primary Constituent Elements for the Southern Selkirk Mountains Population of Woodland Caribou, below). Literature and information we have since reviewed, such as Scott and Servheen 1984, 1985; MCTAC 2002; McKinley and Apps 2007; and Wakkinen and Slone 2010, as well as additional peer review comments, indicate that although caribou have been known to use elevations below 5,000 ft (1,520 m), only habitats at 5,000 ft (1,520 m) in elevation and above are essential to caribou. The final designation includes areas at 5,000 ft (1,520 m) and higher in elevation, based on the best available scientific information.

(15)Comment:The State of Idaho noted that forest practices such as partial cutting at higher elevations is common on Idaho managed lands, in reference to a statement in the proposed rule (76 FR 74025) that in the last decade, timber harvest has moved into high-elevation mature and old-growth habitat types due to more roads and more powerful machinery capable of traversing difficult terrains (Stevensonet al.2001, p. 10). The State commented that during the two previous decades, Idaho Department of Lands foresters have not noted trends toward more powerful machinery capable of traversing difficult terrain, and that State timber sale contracts generally impose size limits on equipment, thereby eliminating the most powerful tractors and skidders from operating on State timber sales. The State commented that a trend toward more mechanized felling and harvesting equipment is evident; however, ground capabilities have remained largely unchanged.

Our Response:There are no State of Idaho lands being designated as critical habitat. We also acknowledge that, depending on the scale and timing of implementation, and equipment limitations, certain timber harvest treatments (partial cuts, thinning, etc.), may result in benign or perhaps beneficial effects to caribou habitat. However, as implemented historically, timber harvest practices (e.g.,large clear cuts) were not compatible with maintaining caribou habitat. To the extent these same types of timber harvests would be implemented today, such treatments would similarly be incompatible with the habitat requirements of caribou.

(16)Comment:The State and many other commenters have pointed out that recent annual surveys for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou have sighted zero to four caribou south of the United States-Canada border.

Our Response:See our response to Comment 1, which discusses the issue of occupancy at the time of listing. As noted previously, the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou is a transboundary population, which moves between B.C., Canada and the United States. Although most of this population is known to inhabit Canada, individual caribou freely move between Canada and the United States. We are designating approximately 30,010 ac (12,145 ha) in one unit containing Boundary County, Idaho, and Pend Oreille County, Washington, as critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. This designation represents a reduction of approximately 345,552 ac (139,840 ha) from the critical habitat originally proposed for designation (76 FR 74018, November 30, 2011); and reflects a 1,000-ft (about 300-m) change in elevation from 4,000 ft (1,220 m) in the proposed rule, to an elevation at or above 5,000 ft (1,520 m) in the final critical habitat designation. Factors that were considered and influenced this change from the proposed rule included: (1) A revised determination of the geographical area occupied by the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou at the time of listing based on peer review comments, Scott and Servheen (1984, 1985), as well as census monitoring documenting low numbers of individual caribou observed in the United States during those annual surveys, and (2) information and literature reporting the overall decline of the subspecies mountain caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) across its range, and in particular the decline of woodland caribou populations in the southern extent of their range, including the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou.

(17)Comment:The State of Idaho indicated that the Service failed to take into account the best available science, and instead took a broad-brushed approach that if implemented as written, would carry significant economic consequences and ultimately hinder recovery efforts for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou in the region. The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho expressed a similar concern. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) did not support the proposed critical habitat designation being based on recovery zone boundaries, stating that much of the recovery zone would not be suitable caribou habitat for a century or more due to large stand-replacing fires in the 1960s, and to some extent, timber harvest. The Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) recommended that the approach and the area proposed for critical habitat be reevaluated and reduced significantly using data relevant to Idaho and with input from IDL and other State agencies.

Our Response:We have reviewed and evaluated all comments and information provided to the Service, including the State of Idaho's comments on the proposed rule and DEA. We have used that information to inform the final designation of critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. Although not all of the information received through public comment is specifically identified or reflected in our response to comments in this final rule, it is part of the administrative record for this rulemaking, and has been given appropriate weight in the final designation. In accordance with section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we used the best scientific data available to inform this critical habitat designation. We also complied with the criteria, established procedures, and guidance based on the Policy on Information Standards under the Endangered Species Act (published in theFederal Registeron July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34271)), the Information Quality Act (section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (Pub. L. 106-554; H.R. 5658)), and our associated Information Quality Guidelines.

In making this final designation of critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou, we reviewed information from many different sources, including articles in peer-reviewed journals, scientific status surveys and studies, unpublished materials, and experts' opinions or personal knowledge, to inform the final critical habitat designation. We requested comments or information from other concerned governmental agencies, the scientific community, industry, and otherinterested parties concerning the proposed rule. Also, in accordance with our peer review policy published on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), we solicited expert opinions from knowledgeable individuals with scientific expertise that included familiarity with the species, the geographic region in which the species occurs, and conservation biology principles. All of the comments and information we received were fully considered in finalizing this critical habitat designation for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou. The Summary of Changes From Proposed Rule section identifies the revisions being made in this final designation, which include removing areas that were similar to the southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou recovery zone boundaries, after considering recommendations from the State of Idaho (including IDFG), the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and peer reviewers. All the supporting materials used for the final rule, including literature cited and comments from the public and peer reviewers, are available for public inspection at the Web site:http://www.regulations.gov.

The State's comments with regard to economic impacts are addressed in the “Comments Related to the Economic Analysis” section below.

(18)Comment:The State of Idaho disagrees that the entire area proposed for critical habitat was occupied at the time of listing, when census data collected by the IDFG at the time of listing indicates that the southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou were utilizing habitat found in close proximity to the U.S. and Canadian border.

Our Response:Our final designation of critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou reflects our analysis of the best available scientific information, and peer review comments provided to us during public comment. See also our response to Comment 1 and the Summary of Changes from Proposed Rule section for a more robust discussion of occupancy at the time of listing and changes between the proposed and final critical habitat rules.

(19)Comment:The State of Idaho stated that critical habitat designation is not prudent at this time, because designation may lead to increased animosity towards the species and adequate protections are in place for the species and its habitat, including section 9 of the Act, which makes it unlawful for anyone to “take” southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou animals given its endangered status.

Our Response:We recognize and appreciate the conservation efforts that have been implemented for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou, and look forward to continuing this important work with our partners. However, to the maximum extent prudent, the designation of critical habitat is required when a species is listed as endangered or threatened under section 4(a)(3)(A)(i) of the Act. Critical habitat designation is a regulatory action that defines specific areas that are essential to the conservation of the species in accordance with the statutory definition. We find the contiguous habitat proposed in this final rule provides the Primary Constituent Elements (PCEs) essential for the conservation of caribou (see Criteria Used to Identify Critical Habitat for more information), and therefore we conclude that designation is beneficial to this species. We have reviewed the best available information and have determined that the designation of critical habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou would not be expected to increase the degree of threat by poaching, since increased education and awareness have made illegal poaching less of a threat than at the time of listing. Based on this information, we have determined that the designation of critical habitat is prudent. The fact that take prohibitions already exist under section 9 of the Act exist does not negate our requirement to designate critical habitat under section 4(a)(3) of the Act. Please refer to the Prudency Determination section in the proposed rule (76 FR 7401; November 30, 2011), for further information on our critical habitat prudency determination.

(20)Comment:The State of Idaho (IDFG) requested information on what additional, if any, management actions would be imposed in areas where critical habitat is designated, and how they would benefit the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou.

Our Response:We do not foresee or anticipate substantive changes in the existing management of the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou or its habitat, because Federal agencies that manage land within the critical habitat area already take extensive measures to protect caribou in these areas. We anticipate that these actions are likely to continue, and will continue to be subject to section 7 consultation as appropriate, regardless of critical habitat designation. See our response to Comment 21 for an additional discussion on the relationship between critical habitat and land use.

(21)Comment:The State of Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) is concerned that critical habitat management restrictions will have an effect on recreational activities, particularly snowmobiling, and motorized vehicle restrictions on roads and trails. The State commented that the Selkirk Mountains provide the only open terrain for snowmobiling in north Idaho. The State provided statistics showing a continual decline in motorized recreation opportunities in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest (IPNF), primarily restrictions associated with the grizzly bear recovery zone. Numerous public comments were received identifying similar concerns as the State.