Today, woodland caribou are found in only one location south of Canada, which are the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and northeastern Washington.
Historically, within the lower 48 states, woodland caribou were once distributed from central Washington State to Glacier National Park in Montana and south to Salmon River. Additionally caribou were found within the Great Lake States and New England States such as Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. It is not know how many caribou were found within what are now the lower 48 states, but it is likely the numbers were in the thousands.
Today, woodland caribou are found in only one location south of Canada, which are the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and northeastern Washington. This small population, which historically numbered in the hundreds of caribou, has been reduced to less than 15 animals. The habitat for this small population is contiguous with adjacent British Columbia and the animals move freely across the international border.
Within the United States, woodland caribou were listed as an endangered species in 1984, whereas this mountain caribou ecotype was federally listed as a threatened species in British Columbia and Alberta under the Canadian Species At Risk Act in 2002. This recovery area represents less the 1 percent of their historical range within the western states. Approximately one-half of this caribou recovery area lies within northeastern Washington and northern Idaho while the other half lies within southern British Columbia, thus it is often referred to as an international herd and requires the efforts of both countries to achieve recovery.
Mountain caribou have adapted for life in cold and snowy, high-elevation environments. Their extremely warm coat, with hollow long guard hairs, traps body heat while their short ears, tail and snout minimize heat loss. Their large, wide hooves act like snowshoes, allowing the caribou to travel over deep snow.
The main threats to mountain caribou are habitat loss, predation, habitat fragmentation and degradation. Logging has removed many critical old growth and mature forests that caribou depend on and replaced them with younger early successional forests. These early successional forests attract moose, deer and elk, as well as their predators such as mountain lions, which may incidentally prey on the caribou. Before their habitat was fragmented, caribou largely avoided predation through their unique seasonal movements and by distributing themselves throughout extensive old-growth forests.
- Selkirk Conservation Alliance has been a contributing member of the International Mountain Caribou Technical Committee since 1993.
- Selkirk Conservation Alliance has contributed funding to the International Mountain Technical committee to be used by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1999 and 2000 to monitor radio-collared mountain caribou and mountain lions movements and caribou mortality within the Selkirk Mountains.
- Supported the petition in 2002, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for mountain caribou within the Selkirk caribou recovery area.
- Began aerial monitoring program to document the extent of snowmobile use within the caribou recovery area and areas that are closed to snowmobile use. This program continues with the support of our conservation partners.
- Supported litigation in 2007, which required the U.S. Forest Service to manage winter recreation within the caribou recovery to reduce the potential for displacement and or harassment of caribou by snowmobiles.
- Provided comments pertaining the proposed caribou management guidelines to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Forest Plan Revision for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.
- Provided comments and suggestions to Draft Ruling for Designation of Critical Habitat for Selkirk Caribou that were proposed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- Continue to be engaged with land management agencies in regards to the management of caribou habitat and caribou recovery.
- In 2016 the SCA Board voted to provide financial and logistical support to the “On the Brink” documentary film being produced by Wildlife Biologist/Photographer David Moskowitz as part of the Mountain Caribou Initiative. Read more on Facebook