If wildlife watching is one of your favorite RV activities, you had better hurry if you want to see caribou in the contiguous U.S. According to the Helena Independent Record, caribou, known as the grey ghosts of Idaho and Washington’s forests, will no longer roam the Lower 48.
After decades of work reintroducing the large ungulates into the two states, Canadian wildlife officials decided to relocate the six remaining survivors in the United States farther north into Canada.
There, Canadian biologists hope to breed the animals in captivity at a pen north of Revelstoke, British Columbia, deep in the Canadian brush.
Bart George, a wildlife biologist for the Kalispel Tribe, hopes the breeding project is successful and that the caribou population grows to a point where it could “spill over into the U.S.”
In 2009, George said the South Selkirk caribou herd had 46 animals and was “climbing at a pretty good rate every year.” But wolves started to filter onto the landscape about that time. “That’s been our primary source of mortality that we’ve known about,” George said.
He added, “Of the six collared animals that we collared in 2013, two were killed by wolves, one killed by cougars and one by an unknown mortality.”
In April, an aerial survey of the South Selkirk Mountain caribou herd found only three surviving members, all female. Over the summer one of those animals was killed by a cougar, George said.
Biologists and managers have known the animals were in trouble since 2012, George said. However, little was done.
“We really didn’t mobilize until it was too late,” he said.
Although mountain caribou were listed as an endangered species in the U.S. in 1983, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the states of Washington and Idaho are not actively involved in the maternal pen project or controlling the caribou predators even though the caribou’s historic range extended south into Idaho and Washington.
“This is what extinction looks like, and it must be a wake-up call for wildlife and habitat managers in both Canada and the United States,” said Joe Scott, Conservation Northwest’s international programs director, in a news release. “While it comes as no surprise given the long decline of the only caribou herds that still roamed into northeast Washington and northern Idaho, today’s news marks the tragic end of an era.”