The S.C.A.'s Current Projects, Programs, and Issues

 

 
 

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The Southern Selkirk Mountain Ecosystem

 


The Southern Selkirk Mountain ecosystem encompasses portions of northern Idaho, northeastern Washington and southern British Columbia. This ecosystem extends from Priest River to the south, northward to Nelson, British Columbia and from Metaline Falls, Washington on the west, eastwards to Bonners Ferry, Idaho. This ecosystem contains a flora and fauna assemblage that is unique to the lower 48 States. This ecosystem is the only one within the conterminous United States, which still contain woodland (mountain) caribou. Other wildlife species which may be found with this ecosystem are: grizzly bear, gray wolf, Canada lynx, fisher, American marten, moose, elk, mule and white-tail deer, mountain goat and bighorn sheep to name a few. The ecosystem also contains a unique assemblage of various owls species which include: barred owl, great gray owl, great horned owls, boreal owls, flammulated owl, saw-whit owl, northern pygmy owl, western screech owl, long eared owl, Northern hawk owl, snowy owl (winter) and barn owl.

 

Our Efforts

  • Continue to be engaged with land management agencies in regards to proposed management activities within the Selkirk Ecosystem.

 

 
 

 

South Selkirk Mountain Caribou

 


Caribou and reindeer are thought to be of the same species, although the taxonomy of caribou is in flux as a more detailed genetic analysis is underway. One lineage of caribou that was pushed south during the last glaciations, survived in what is now the United States and southern Canada. Where as, the other caribou linage survived within western North America refugia before it colonized and or recolonized the northern regions of North America. This latter group is often considered as the “migratory barren-ground caribou” whereas the former group is considered as Woodland Caribou. It is widely accepted that there are three different ecotypes of woodland caribou. They are the boreal caribou or ecotype, the northern caribou or ecotype and the mountain caribou or ecotype. The separation of woodland caribou in these there distinctive ecotypes is primarily based on migratory behavior, habitat requirements and feeding preferences. Although there are slight genetic differences between ecotypes, they have not been separated into distinct subspecies.

Historically, within the lower 48 states, woodland caribou were once distributed from central Washington State to Glacier National Park in Montana and south to Salmon River. Additionally caribou were found within the Great Lake States and New England States such as Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. It is not know how many caribou were found within what are now the lower 48 states, but it is likely the numbers were in the thousands of animals.

Today, woodland caribou are found in only one location south of Canada, which are the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and northeastern Washington. This small population, which historically numbered in the hundreds of caribou, has been reduced to less than 50 animals. The habitat for this small population is contiguous with adjacent British Columbia and the animals move freely across the international border. Within the United States, woodland caribou were listed as an endangered species in 1984, whereas this mountain caribou ecotype was federally listed as a threatened species in British Columbia and Alberta under the Canadian Species At Risk Act in 2002. This recovery area represents less the 1 percent of their historical range within the western states. Approximately one-half of this caribou recovery area lies within northeastern Washington and northern Idaho while the other half lies within southern British Columbia, thus it is often referred to as an international herd and requires the efforts of both countries to achieve recovery for this herd.

Mountain caribou have adapted for life in cold and snowy, high-elevation environments. Their extremely warm coat, with hollow long guard hairs, traps body heat while their short ears, tail and snout minimize heat loss. Their large, wide hooves act like snowshoes, allowing the caribou to travel over deep snow.

The main threats to mountain caribou are habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation. Logging has removed many critical old growth and mature forests that caribou depend on and replaced them with younger early successional forest. These early successional forests attract moose, deer and elk, as well as their predators such as mountain lions, which may incidentally prey on the caribou. Before their habitat was fragmented, caribou largely avoided predation through their unique seasonal movements and by distributing themselves throughout extensive old-growth forests.

 

Our Efforts

  • Selkirk Conservation Alliance has been a contributing member of the International Mountain Caribou Technical Committee since 1993.
  • Selkirk Conservation Alliance has contributed funding to the International Mountain Technical committee to be used by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1999 and 2000 to monitor radio-collared mountain caribou and mountain lions movements and caribou mortality within the Selkirk Mountains.
  • Supported the petition in 2002, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for mountain caribou within the Selkirk caribou recovery area.
  • Began aerial monitoring program to document the extent of snowmobile use within the caribou recovery area and areas that are closed to snowmobile use.
  • Supported litigation in 2007, which required the U.S. Forest Service to manage winter recreation within the caribou recovery to reduce the potential for displacement and or harassment of caribou by snowmobiles.
  • Provided comments pertaining the proposed caribou management guidelines to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Forest Plan Revision for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.
  • Provided comments and suggestions to Draft Ruling for Designation of Critical Habitat for Selkirk Caribou that were proposed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Continue to be engaged with land management agencies in regards to the management of caribou habitat and caribou recovery.

 

 
 

 

Selkirk Grizzly Bears

 


Grizzly bears originally ranged throughout most of western North America, but began disappearing from many western states to where only a few hundred grizzly bears remained south of Canada, by the 1970’s. The grizzly bear was federally listed as a threatened species in 1975. Today, their population is confined to less than two percent of their range, which is represented in six population centers south of Canada. This includes the Yellowstone, Northern Continental Divide, Cabinet-Yaak, North Cascades, Bitterroot, and Selkirk recovery zones.

The Selkirk grizzly bear recovery zone is the only one of the six recovery zones, which includes a portion of adjacent British Columbia as part of the lands that are necessary to achieve recovery of grizzly bears in that ecosystem. The estimate for the number of grizzly bears within this ecosystem range from somewhere between 50 and 70 bears. They are believed to be equally distributed between the United States and the British Columbia’s portion of the ecosystems and freely move across the border between the two countries.

Illegal mortalities (poaching, mistaken identification etc.) has always been a problem for this small grizzly bear population and may very well be one the leading factors which may limit recovery of this population. Human development (roads, homes, towns etc.) surrounding this ecosystem has also had its effect of this grizzly bear population. Recent genetic research into grizzly bears within the United States and north through Canada and into the southern part of Alaska has shown that the Selkirk grizzly bears show genetic markers suggesting that this population has been genetically and demographically isolated for at least the past several generations.

 

Our Efforts

  • Selkirk Conservation Alliance with the support of the Yellowstone 2 Yukon Initiative has participated in several seasons of ‘bear awareness’ campaigns, which targeted local youth groups and community events.
  • We have collected and evaluated information on the current conditions of grizzly bear habitat on lands under the jurisdiction of the Idaho Department of Lands within this ecosystem.
  • Provided comments pertaining the proposed grizzly bear management guidelines to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Forest Plan Revision for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.
  • Continue to be engaged with land management agencies in regards to the management of grizzly bear habitat and recovery.
  • Participated with Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service and Western Wildlife Outreach (formally Grizzly Bear Outreach Program) in the development of list of priority grizzly bear sanitation projects.
  • Provide funding and support for the implementation of bear sanitation projects within the ecosystem. We work closely with partners that include, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kalispell Tribe, Defenders of Wildlife, Western Wildlife Outreach and Boy Scouts of America.

 

 
 

 

Water Quality Monitoring – Priest Lake

 

Selkirk Conservation Alliance has been monitoring water quality on Priest Lake since 2008. This program is conducted in conjunction with the State of Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality under the citizens volunteer monitoring program. The goal of the monitoring program is to accumulate baseline data that may lead to early detection to any detrimental impacts to water quality. As with any program, the early detection of any problems leads to a greater prospect of success of any necessary corrective actions. (Link to page with water quality reports)

Water quality is important aspect of almost all business, homeowners and visitors to the Priest Lake region. A 1996 Recreational User Survey that was conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Department of Lands and the University of Idaho indicated that the number of recreation user days to the Priest Lake drainage nearly topped those of Glacier National Park in Montana. This study also found that 50 percent to those recreation user days were associated with water-based recreation such as, shoreline camping, boating, swimming and fishing. All of this above mentioned activities are closely, if not intimately connected with water quality.

This project is intended to be conducted well on into the future as an effort to detect any changes in water quality that may impact existing and futures uses of this lake system.

 

Our Efforts

  • Participate in the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s Watershed Advisory Group (WAG) for the Priest Lake and Priest River area.
  • Conduct routine water quality monitoring on Priest Lake in conjunction with Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. Water Samples are collected to submitted to laboratory for analysis Chlorophyll-a and Phosphorous. Measurements of water temp and dissolved oxygen are also conducted. (Click here to view the Water Quality Documents)

 

 
 

 

Hydroelectric (Dam) Re-Licensing

 

 

Sullivan Dam Surrender Project

Sullivan Lake (1,240 acres) sits on the east slope of the Selkirk Mountains and is fed by incoming waters of Noisy and Harvey Creeks. It’s been a lake for a long time but its elevation was raised by placement of a small dam at Outlet Creek in 1931. The Sullivan Dam Project produced electricity for the town of Metaline Falls until 1956 when other sources became available and cheaper. Sullivan Creek is the largest creek flowing into Boundary Reservoir and is considered by fisheries biologists as the #1 stream for reintroduction of endangered bull trout that no longer spawn within any of the streams flowing into the reservoir. Because the project was and is licensed by the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC), the PUD must “surrender” its license through a regulated process overseen and ultimately approved by FERC. The Selkirk Conservation Alliance is a member of the negotiation team along with The Lands Council of Spokane, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Dept. of Ecology, Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, American Whitewater, Seattle City Light, Pend Oreille County and several participating residents of that county.

 

Boundary Dam Re-Licensing Project

SCA has been involved in the Boundary Dam re-licensing since early 2007. Boundary Dam is owned by the City of Seattle and run by Seattle City Light (SCL). SCL has been working with FERC and stakeholders since 2006 to provide for relicensing.

In early 2008, SCA initiated negotiations with SCL to begin the discussion of protections, mitigations and enhancements.

In early 2008, SCA initiated negotiations with SCL to begin the discussion of protections, mitigations and enhancements (PM&Es) as they relate to probable impacts to various resources over the next 50 years of hydropower production at Boundary Dam.

Although SCL is reluctant to break into the linear schedule they had established and which relegated such discussions into late 2008 at the earliest, other stakeholders do support SCA's proposal for early project (PM&E) that will be complex and require significant discussion and negotiation.

The probable inclusion of Sullivan Creek and the changing of water flow patterns from Sullivan and Millpond Dams are methods to help in the recovery of this stream as bull trout habitat and are examples of the type of mitigation that SCA concluded required early discussion. Another possible complex issue is that of toxics (mercury, PCBs, etc.) and how they affect the fisheries of Boundary Reservoir as a recreational resource. SCA is in the middle of all these discussions and will push for meaningful PM&Es for bull trout especially but also for other actions where we conclude that SCA involvement can help the natural resources.

The Selkirk Conservation Alliance was requested by the Hydropower Reform Coalition to be the non-governmental organization responsible for providing oversight to this re- licensing process with a special emphasis on natural resources issues. To date our comments have focused on the above two issues but, also, included issues relating to plans for the Fish Distribution, Timing and Abundance Study; Fish Entrainment and Habitat Connectivity Study; Waterfowl/Waterbird Study; Rare, Threatened and Endangered (RTE) Plant Species Inventory; RTE Wildlife Species Study, Bat Surveys and Habitat Inventory; Recreation Resource Study; and, the Lands and Road Study.

 

Albeni Falls Dam

Managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps). Albeni Falls Dam was constructed in 1955 and produces 200 million KW of electricity/year. In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a Biological Opinion that required the Army Corps to carry out a determination that reads: “The action agencies shall evaluate the feasibility of reestablishing bull trout passage at Albeni Falls Dam.” The Army Corps made very slow progress over the next several years.

SCA is happy to report that the Army Corps is now actively evaluating the feasibility of fish passage over Albeni Falls Dam. The Kalispel Tribe of Indians from Usk, Washington are contracted to carry out fish movement and other studies on bull trout that are relevant to the recovery of bull trout in general and to the fish passage feasibility study at Albeni Falls Dam in particular.

 

Box Canyon Dam

This small hydropower dam, located at river mile 34.41 on the Pend Oreille River, is only 62.4 feet high and produces 69 megawatts yearly. Developed and managed by the Pend Oreille Public Utilities District (PUD), the recent relicensing has been very contentious, but recent settlement has been reached between the PUD, federal and state governments and the Kalispel Tribe. It is available on the PUD’s website.

When the dam was originally constructed it included no measures for fish passage. As the settlement for this relicensing, the PUD has agreed to fish passage of some kind. They also agreed to a Trout Habitat Restoration Program that will restore 164 miles of tributary habitat within the next 25 years in the Calispell, Cee Cee Ah, Cedar, LeClerc, Indian, Mill, Ruby, and Tacoma creek watersheds.