Share story

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Officials are eyeing ways to protect a threatened squirrel species amid plans to expand a dam in western Idaho.

The Idaho Water Resource Board has approved spending up to $30,000 to study mitigation options involving the effects of the Lost Valley Dam expansion project on the northern Idaho ground squirrel, the Capital Press reported this week.

If population surveys and a related analysis fail to provide viable mitigation steps, the proposed project could be stalled, said Doug McAlvain, a board member of the Lost Valley Reservoir Co.

Water users are seeking to raise the dam and triple the capacity of its reservoir. The dam is located about 130 miles (209 kilometers) north of Boise.

The ground squirrel, which has a population near the dam, was federally listed as threatened nearly two decades ago.

The species is threatened by the loss of its meadow habitat as forests encroach and isolate populations. About 1,500 to 2,200 ground squirrels live in 54 population sites in the state, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The squirrels reside in dry meadows surrounded by ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees. The squirrels require large amounts of grass seed, stems and other leafy vegetation to build up fat reserves for their winter hibernation, according to the federal agency.

Recovery plans for the species have focused on habitat restoration and linking the existing populations, said Miel Corbett, the agency’s regional spokeswoman in Portland, Oregon.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has seen a modest boost in the ground squirrel numbers in recent years, said Diane Evans Mack, a regional wildlife biologist.

“But we are currently nowhere near the goal in the recovery plan for the population’s size, distribution and security,” Mack said.


Information from: Capital Press,