- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Citing national security needs, U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it wants to reopen an Idaho road that was closed to protect grizzly bear habitat near the Canadian border.

The 6-mile section of Bog Creek Road in Idaho Panhandle National Forests would be used by officials, not the public, to provide east-west access in the Selkirk Mountains.

The road cuts through the Selkirk Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone and was closed at both ends in the late 1980s to protect the animals.

Officials say it has deteriorated and needs significant repairs.

The federal agency says its personnel must now make a 180-mile detour through Washington state to patrol the area for illegal border crossings.

“The whole point is to make sure the Department of Homeland Security has what it needs and the grizzly bears have what they need,” said Shanda Dekome, acting deputy forest supervisor.

Questions submitted by email on Thursday to Border Protection weren’t answered.

The 2,200-square-mile Selkirk Mountain Ecosystem includes portions of Idaho, Washington state and British Columbia.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the grizzly bear population at about 80 bears listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Dekome said guidelines require 55 percent of the habitat area to have no motorized travel, and it is now about 5 percent short of that mark, with a 2019 deadline to comply.

Along with grizzly bears, other federally protected species in the area include caribou, Canada lynx and bull trout.

Boundary County Commissioner LeAlan Pinkerton, a former border protection agent, testified before a U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee last month about the road, contending it should be opened.

The Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “have placed the recovery of grizzly bear, caribou, lynx and other wildlife species as a priority above our nation’s security,” he told lawmakers.

He told The Associated Press on Friday that he’s traveled Bog Creek Road many times, having grown up in the area and later worked as a supervisory border protection agent.

“The agents that work that area absolutely have arrested people coming through and using that avenue,” he said. “It still goes on today.”

Mike Garrity, executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said his group planned to participate in a public review process on the proposal.

“Most grizzly bears that are killed are killed near roads, so it’s something that would definitely be harmful to grizzly bears,” he said.

The agency is preparing an environmental impact statement, with public comments being taken through May 27.

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