About the South Selkirk Mountain Caribou

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What are caribou?

Caribou are a medium to large ungulate (deer-like order). They are found throughout the world in the Northern Hemisphere in cold climates and range from the tundra to the high northern mountainous terrains. They differ from other deer types in that both males and females grow antlers. Caribou also have larger hooves for displacing their weight across soft surfaces like wetlands, snow, and the tundra. Unlike other deer species, caribou have a slow reproduction rate and a relatively low calf survival rate.

Did you know that caribou come in many flavors? 

While the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), only recognizes one species of Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), there are14 recognized sub species. Our South Selkirk Mountain Caribou are the subspecies Rangifer tarandus caribou. Caribou are threatened by habitat loss, deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and global climate change. Many of the subspecies and populations of caribou are critically endangered.

Did you know that there is a subspecies of woodland caribou that still resides in the Continental USA?

The South Selkirk Mountain Caribou population of the south mountain subspecies still occupies and utilizes habitat in both northeast Washington and northern Idaho. 

Did you know that the endangered Selkirk caribou are part of our national heritage and protected under the Endangered Species Act since the 1990s? 

Since 1983 the Mountain Caribou have been protected under the ESA. Many international partners have been working together to restore this population for nearly 35 years. This is the most critically endangered mammal in North America with just 11 remaining today.

What is the cause of their plight?

Habitat is the first problem. Caribou use old aged stands. Logging, fragmentation, and roads have reduced caribou habitat and these areas will take decades to recover. These actions have also increased habitat suitability for other deer species like moose, deer, and elk – drawing predators ever closer to high elevation winter range for the caribou. So predators and other human-caused mortality have put this population at risk of extirpation from our country and natural heritage! Lastly, winter recreation can stress these animals in winter and reduce their fitness. Any increased stress during a low calorie period (winter) can be devastating to individual animals. 

Why are caribou important and why should you care?

As part of your natural heritage, caribou are indicators of the health of our environment. They occupy a small band of habitat associated with high elevation and snow pack. These areas are necessary for clean water, streams and fish, and other important indicators such as grizzly bear, golden eagle, wolverine, lynx and other high elevation habitat users. As part of our heritage collectively, we have a responsibility as earth’s stewards to maintain the health and productivity of our planet. When these indicators start to disappear, how long before we feel the ramifications of our decisions reach us as a community or individually?

Can we save and rebuild this population of caribou?

Absolutely! However, it takes effort, care, and money. We need your help to encourage your federal and state agencies to protect and recover this species. If it is important to you, it will become important to them. We have been in a period of apathy, but more attention is being paid to caribou on both sides of the border. To keep this momentum going, we need you to advocate for this population. We need you to help raise money to operate and maintain expensive stop gap measures, like the maternity pen, to bridge recovery efforts. We need you to ask Canada to augment this herd with other mountain caribou (even though all populations are declining and are in peril) in the near term to boost population numbers. We need you to reach out to your state (WA and ID) wildlife commissioners and federal managers to prioritize caribou recovery actions and funding. You are critical to this population, and all caribou being preserved on our landscape for future generations to know and enjoy. Since there are still many places to enjoy winter recreation, by supporting and adhering to important area closures we can reduce and eliminate unnecessary stress on these animals.