About the South Selkirk Mountain Caribou

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What are caribou?

Caribou are a medium to large ungulate (deer family). 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.

Did you know that caribou come in many flavors? 

There are two species of caribou (reindeer): the tundra caribou and the woodland caribou. The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), only recognizes one species of Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) with 14 sub species. Our woodland caribou are Rangifer tarandus caribou. Tundra caribou are divided into six known subspecies, while woodland caribou have three distinct subspecies. Caribou are threatened by habitat loss, deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and global climate change. Many populations of caribou are already 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 1990’s? 

Since the late 1980s and early 90s the Mountain Caribou have been protected under the ESA. Many partners have been working to restore this population for nearly 30 years. This is the most critically endangered mammal in North America with just 10 remaining today.

What is the cause of their plight?

Habitat is the first problem. Logging, fragmentation, and roads have eliminated or reduced caribou winter habitat. 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, stream 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. Currently we are in a period of apathy. 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 in the near term to boost population numbers. You are critical to this population, and all caribou being preserved on our landscape for future generations to know and enjoy. There are still many areas to recreate in the winter. Supporting and adhering to important area closures can reduce and eliminate stress on these animals.