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Kootenai Tribe of Idaho meets environmental challenges

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Boundary County officials, wanting to allow communities to meet mandates of the Endangered Species Act 'in concert, not conflict', have proposed to the Interior Department that the county become an experiment in federal-local partnership in the Idaho Panhandle. The county on the Canadian border has grizzly bears, bull trout, caribou, bald eagles, gray wolves and the Kootenai River white sturgeon, all under some level of federal protection.

'We want to start a new era where we can assist and help,' Bonners Ferry Mayor Darrell Kerby said. 'We want to be a player.'

A case in point has been plans for the white sturgeon. The tribe and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service independently developed a plan to keep the Kootenai River at 1,770 feet above sea level, which would have flooded much of Bonners Ferry and the Kootenai Valley. Even at 1,764 feet, officials estimate flooding caused crop losses of more than $1 million. With two-thirds of the county federally owned, local leaders say economic growth is being stifled.

An Interior official said Secretary Gale Norton expects all levels of government should have an opportunity to be involved and have an effect on recovery decisions.