On Tuesday evening in Sandpoint, the Bonner County Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a continuation of a hearing to approve the proposed Sandpiper Shores development at the northern end of Priest Lake. The proposal would take some 72 acres and subdivide it into 14 single family lots to include a boardwalk, beach and shared dock. The application clusters the development, purporting to protect some 56 acres of “open space,” most of which is unbuildable wetland. At the initial hearing on July 19th, wildlife issues were at the center of debate.
In a letter submitted to Bonner County in April, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game was critical of the development, noting that the site is located in mapped moose range and includes white tailed deer winter range. Also, the Department noted that black bear and grizzly bear are known to be present in the area, and the development would increase the potential for wildlife-human contacts.
This is significant because grizzly bears are federally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. According to IDFG, “Loss of grizzly bears due to human related interaction is the primary mortality factor” for the bears and stalls their recovery. The Bonner County Comprehensive Plan’s Natural Resources Chapter (a huge pdf at page 5-27) says “Ideally, no development would occur in grizzly bear habitat.”
Moreover, according to IDFG, merely preserving open space acreage is not enough.
The high wildlife values of the wetland and winter range associated with the site make it clear that this development, as proposed, will negatively affect associated wildlife resources. While providing blocks of open space is generally commendable, reserving 56.94 acres of unbuildable mapped wetland open space will not mitigate habitat loss and disturbance associated with the development.
Indeed, the clustering of housing on the upland would ruin otherwise unfettered access by wildlife to the large “open space” wetland. Of what use is open space to wildlife if the wildlife can’t get to it? Or no longer want to get to it? Or can’t get to it without risking human interaction? Mark Sprengel from our colleagues at Selkirk Conservation Alliance noted that wildlife would probably just avoid the area altogether — meaning that the well-functioning wetland habitat “preserved” by the developer would still be lost forever.
As the Fish and Game Department wrote in an earlier letter regarding the development, “Each new rural subdivision displaces wildlife and permanently reduces the ability of Bonner County to support future wildlife populations.” At this particular location, this loss is unacceptable.
UPDATE 8/3: The Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-2 to approve the subdivision. The application now goes to the Bonner County Commissioners for their hearing and final decision.