Why we wrote about caribou this week

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While reporting on this week's cover story, "The Last of the Herd," I found it remarkable how many people could get so riled up over a couple dozen caribou hanging out on the edge of the U.S. border. Animals, no less, that people rarely see.

But the plan to designate a critical habitat for caribou lies at the intersection of a bunch of conflicting groups: local government, federal regulatory agencies, Priest Lake's recreation economy, wildlife conservationists, and the animals themselves. Fireworks are inevitable any time so many interests smash into each other, but the discussion has benefits, too. It brings up big questions, like what role government should play in protecting endangered species. Or how much leeway local communities should have in deciding how their land is used for snowmobiles or logging.

While the policy discussion hooked me from the start, there was adventure, too. Exploring towns like Ione and Bonners Ferry, Idaho, as my travel companion and I drove a giant loop around the Selkirk Mountains. Driving into British Columbia and hiking the backcountry in avalanche areas, searching for a practically invisible animal with antlers like bony arms. 

I learned a lot about conservation, snowmobiling, wildlife and all the ways people depend on public land. And I had a blast exploring the region. Hopefully you'll get that from my story. Read it here.

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