Lawsuit Filed to Protect Dwindling Numbers of Mountain Caribou

Recently Gone From Lower 48 States, Caribou Need Protection to Return

SANDPOINT, Idaho— Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to finalize endangered species protection and designate critical habitat for Southern Mountain caribou.

“The last wild caribou in the lower 48 states have disappeared, but the Trump administration is still delaying the protection they desperately need to thrive in the United States again,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we’re going to get our beloved reindeer back, they need the strong protection of the Endangered Species Act.”

The southern Selkirk herd of caribou, which formerly occupied southern British Columbia, Idaho and Washington, has been protected as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1983.

In 2014 the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the herd is actually part of a larger population known as the Southern Mountain caribou, which includes a number of herds in Canada, and proposed protecting them as threatened.

The Service, however, never finalized protection for Southern Mountain caribou. The agency also failed to reconsider designating protected critical habitat for the caribou after the groups involved in today’s action successfully challenged a previous designation that only included a small fraction of the caribou’s former range in the United States.

Late last year Canada brought the last animals from the southern Selkirk herd into captivity, marking the loss of all caribou from the lower 48 states.

“It is a tragedy that Southern Mountain caribou have been wiped out from the lower 48,” said Jason Rylander, senior counsel at Defenders of Wildlife. “The Trump administration has the power to return Southern Mountain caribou to their original stomping grounds by securing protections for this imperiled species and its habitat. We must act now before it is too late.”

The conservation groups are represented by attorneys from the Center for Biological Diversity and Advocates for the West.

Caribou once had a broad range across the lower 48, including the northern Rockies in Washington, Idaho and Montana, the upper Midwest and the Northeast.

By 1983, when they were protected under the Endangered Species Act, caribou were limited to just the northern Rockies and declining fast. In the 1990s the Fish and Wildlife Service augmented the southern Selkirk herd with caribou from Canada, which helped the population grow to more than 100 animals. But the effort was abandoned without explanation, allowing the Selkirk herd to languish and decline.

In 2011, following a petition and litigation from conservation groups, the Service proposed designating more than 375,000 acres of critical habitat for caribou in Idaho and Washington. In 2012, however, the Service finalized a designation that included only about 30,000 acres. This massive cut in critical habitat was successfully challenged by the groups, but the Service has yet to issue a new critical habitat designation.

Mountain caribou are an “ecotype” of the more widespread woodland caribou. They are uniquely adapted to life in the very snowy mountains of British Columbia and the northernmost areas of the northern Rockies in the lower 48 states.

Caribou hooves are the size of dinner plates and act like snowshoes. The animals can survive all winter eating arboreal lichens found on the branches of old-growth trees only accessible in winter. Development and roads are increasingly fragmenting their habitat.

Adding insult to injury, the increased power and popularity of snowmobiles has allowed more people to infringe on the caribou’s alpine habitat. Snowmobiles disturb the caribou while also compacting trails that provides predators access to caribou during winter.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Advocates for the West protects and defends our public lands, wildlife, watersheds and air through litigation and negotiation.

The Lands Council has working to protect wild forests, rare wildlife, and rivers in the Inland Northwest for over 35 years.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter@DefendersNews.

Ecology Extends Comment Period for Spokane River Variances

The Washington Department of Ecology is extending the comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) scoping from 21 days to 30 days, based on requests for an extension and the broad interest in this work. The new end of the DEIS scoping comment period will be July 11, 2019.   

The Department of Ecology (Ecology) is beginning a rulemaking to consider amending the Water Quality Standards for Surface Waters of the State of Washington, Chapter 173-201A Washington Administrative Code (WAC). Ecology is considering adopting one or more variances to the water quality standards that meet the requirements of WAC 173-201A-420 (Variance section), for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) for the Spokane River, in water resource inventory area (WRIA) 57.  

Ecology will consider amending sections of Chapter 173-201A WAC that address variances to the standards, including amendments to 173-201A-420 (Variance) and 173-201A-602 (Table 602 – Use designations for fresh waters by water resource inventory area), as well as any other sections that need to be amended to support adopting the above-noted variances.

More information on the rulemaking and links:

·       Read the CR-101 for details on this rulemaking:  

·       Browse the Water Quality Revisions rulemaking web page:

·       Join our ListServ to receive news and information about this rulemaking, and other water quality topics:

SEPA Scoping Comment Period (June 12 – July 2, 2019)

Ecology is holding a comment period from June 12 through July 2 on the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this rulemaking. The EIS will evaluate the potential environmental impacts of potential amendments and we will use the EIS to guide its development of proposed rule language.

·       Comment on the scope of the EIS:


Susan Braley
WA State Dept. of Ecology
Phone: 360.407.6414

Project SUSTAIN & Storm Water at Spokane Montessori

We've seen our share of rain this spring... and managing storm water is part of protecting our river. As a part of a year-long storm water curriculum, Kat Hall worked with the City of Spokane and Spokane Public Montessori on a rain garden to address storm water runoff at the Spokane Public Montessori school. These students designed a storm garden and then created it and installed it themselves!

It's inspiring to think that the often neglected space between sidewalk and street has wonderful rain garden potential. 

Check out two amazing videos covering this awesome project:

Canadian Government Approves Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion

Ignoring risks to native people, climate and the Salish Sea, the Canadian government today formally approved an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. This decision comes after a major legal victory for British Columbia First Nations in August of 2018. This quashed the Canadian government’s original approval on the basis that they had not conducted adequate consultation with BC First Nations opposed to the project or fully considered the impacts of the pipeline expansion on the Salish Sea.

The Trans Mountain expansion is expected to result in a massive increase in oil tankers originating from the Westridge Marine Terminal, increasing vessel traffic in the shared waters of the Salish Sea from approximately 5 tankers a month to 1 every day, imperiling local residents, further endangering the Southern Resident orca population, and increasing the risk of a catastrophic oil spill of heavy diluted bitumen.

Press release by Earthjustice, representing U.S. Tribes, with quotes by Tribal Leaders

Quotes from Stand Up To Oil

“The Stand Up to Oil coalition condemns Canada’s approval today of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.” said Rebecca Ponzio, of the Stand Up To Oil campaign and Climate and Fossil Fuel Program Director at Washington Environmental Council. “The Trans Mountain catastrophe transcends the international border—imperiling the endangered Southern Resident orcas, contributing to the cumulative impacts of vessel traffic in the Salish Sea, and exacerbating the risk of oil spills in both Canada and Washington state. We recognize the leadership of Tribes and First Nations in the fight against new oil terminals and we will continue to take action in opposition to any expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.”

“As islanders, the Salish Sea is our everything –it drives our economy and our property values.  The Trans Mountain pipeline’s heavy sinking Alberta tar sand oil will increase oil spill risk for our human and marine community by 700%. We can’t stand idle at the international border as Canadian lawmakers push this through our shared waters. We stand with Tribes and BC First Nations in opposition to the pipeline expansion,” stated Stephanie Buffum, Executive Director, Friends of the San Juans

“By approving the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline expansion, the Canadian government is putting our climate, First Nations, wildlife, and communities on both sides of the border at risk,” said Sierra Club Campaign Representative Stephanie Hillman. “This massive tar sands project would increase tanker traffic through the Salish Sea by 700 percent, devastating our coast and Washington’s already at-risk orca population. The movement across North America to fight back against dirty, dangerous tar sands pipelines isn’t going anywhere. We’ll continue to stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities to ensure that this pipeline is never built.”

“Health professionals across Washington share our Canadian colleagues’ deep disappointment in the Canadian government’s decision to approve the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline,” said Mark Vossler, MD, President of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. “This project is disastrous for our climate, violates indigenous sovereignty, and creates unacceptable risks to health– including toxic pollution linked to cancers and the threat of catastrophic oil spill.”

“Trudeau has become the Trump of the North by approving this pipeline. Trudeau is pandering to big oil  and ignoring climate science while jeopardizing the Salish Sea and the people who rely on it due to the significant increase in the likelihood of a catastrophic oil spill,” said Marcie Keever, Oceans & Vessels Program Director, Friends of the Earth US

“While on its face this feels like a setback, the reality is Canada’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline is almost irrelevant. The Asian markets are mythical at best, Washington state has all the tar sands it can handle, and robust opposition from frontline communities in California is preventing their refineries from expanding to take more tar sands. The West Coast has stopped new pipelines and oil tankers before, and we’ll do it again,” said Matt Krogh, Extreme Oil Campaign Director at

“This decision may fly in the face of climate science, indigenous rights, and basic reason, but it does not shake our movement’s resolve. We stopped this pipeline once with the power of the people, and we can do it again. It’s time to resist!” said Kurtis Dengler, Organizer, Mosquito Fleet

Why Outdoor Education for Kids Matters

I'm always surprised when I hear the stats about how little time kids spend outside. One study found children are spending less than half the amount of time outdoors than they did just 20 years ago. Meanwhile, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids spend an average of seven hours a day using electronic media.

My own childhood was filled with outdoor time. At home I helped my grandma in the garden, stacked wood, mowed the lawn and raked leaves. On my own, I built forts in the woods, rode my bike with friends, went sledding or ice skating in the winter, climbed trees and rocks, and read books on a platform in a tree on hot days.

But my nature time wasn't limited to after-school and weekend activities. I attended a public school in New York's Hudson Valley, and we spent almost all our gym and recess periods outside. Unless the weather was really, really bad, we were outdoors. We spent science classes on the acres that surrounded our school, collecting samples from trees and learning about everything from hydrology to chemistry to physics — and all al fresco. We also had a school forest — on land donated to the school — and we would spend half-days engaging in longer research projects and having picnic lunches there.

All that outside time isn't just about health and getting kids to exercise more, though that's certainly true. Several studies also have linked outside time to higher test scores, lower anxiety and aggression, more creativity and improved attention spans. Spending significant time outdoors before the age of 11 is linked to a higher pro-nature worldview.

As an added bonus, one study from Swansea University found that in addition to the benefits for children, the outside time was also beneficial to teachers. Researchers look at three primary schools in south Wales that adopted an outdoor learning program, with teachers working outside with students at least one hour a week, according to a news release.

"This is a really important finding given the current concerns around teacher retention rates," said Emily Marchant, lead author of the study, and a Ph.D. researcher at Swansea.

When class is in the woods

A public school in Quechee, Vermont, is taking these results seriously — and fighting the tide of indoor-centric childhoods. Eliza Minnucci's kindergarten class there engages in Forest Mondays, during which the students spend the whole day in the woods, rain or shine. It's modeled after the Forest Kindergarten in Switzerland (see video above) which is all outside, all the time. And it's a more curriculum-based version of the Land, an outdoor playground in England that's being replicated in other countries. That last one allows kids to experiment, build dams, and even build fires in the woods. But the idea that's shared across those initiatives is to let kids learn lessons from the natural world.

So what have the results been? Mostly positive.

"Kids are so resourceful out here," Minnucci told NPR. "In the classroom, we chunk everything into small pieces. We teach them discrete skills and facts and they put it together later. That's a good way to learn, but it's not the way the world works," she says. "I like giving them the opportunity to be in a really complex place where they need to think about how to build a dam with a peer and at the same time, think about staying dry and staying warm."

Kids get creative in that environment

Playing outdoors involves plenty of learning — just not from a book. It's fairly easy to weave lessons into nature play. I taught ecology to kids age 4 through middle school, and while I had concepts to teach, it was mostly kids' natural curiosity that drove much of what we did.

They wanted to know the names of birds, plants, rocks and clouds (biology and geology). We followed streams into larger streams into a pond (hydrology and investigation) and created seesaws with logs and stones (physics and teamwork). We even made up stories about ants and butterflies (language, organizing information and creativity). For the older kids, we had more defined lesson plans, but we were still outside the whole time, and we would often go off on a tangent if something interesting was happening — like an ant pileup or a stream flooded by a beaver dam — so the learning experience was always fresh and engaging. On top of learning and moving around freely instead of sitting at desks, the kids were having fun while they learned, which made them excited for the next lesson. Shouldn't that be the goal of all education?

Perhaps Vermont's kindergarten program and its inspirations are the start of the pendulum swinging back from the test-centric mentality of the current educational era. While some guardians practice "free-range parenting" and others are taking their kids out hiking on the weekends or limiting use of electronic devices, teachers are bringing some of that same thinking to their classrooms.

Considering all the good evidence that being outside is great for mind and body — as well as test scores — it seems like this kind of education is a natural next step for teachers.

Support the Oil Spill Prevention Act

Oil spills threaten Washington’s coast every day, putting coastal jobs, and our cultural heritage at risk.  Also at risk, our endangered Southern Resident Orca. Washington can pass oil spill prevention legislation this session modernizing safeguards and protecting our environment, economy, and endangered orcas from the devastation of an oil spill.

Call on the legislature to protect our state from the threat of a catastrophic oil spill in our waters!


I am urging you to support SB 5578/HB 1578 Oil Spill Prevention Act and to vote for strong oil spill prevention measures this session.

Our waters support the life and natural beauty of our state and bolster our economy. Every day, the risk of oil spills threaten Washington’s coastal fishing, tourism and recreation economies, based in a world-class marine ecosystem, and boosted by our endangered Southern Resident Orca.

Washington’s oil spill prevention program has not kept pace with increased risk arising from under-regulated barges and smaller tankers being used to transport oil.  The type of oil moving through the state has also changed. Heavy, sinking oils are being carried through our coastal waters by tug and tank barges, vessels which do not operate with the same safety regulations as oil tankers.

We need modernized safeguards that address all vessels carrying crude oil through Washington’s coastal waters to protect our communities and environment we depend on from a major oil spill.

All it takes is one catastrophic oil spill to cause  irreparable, irreversible damage to our environment.

I am in full support of HB 1578 and SB 5578.  I am asking to to support  strong and reasonable oil spill prevention measures.  The time is now.  Tomorrow may be too late.