Caribou population still too small

  • Caribou drawing

    Ken Miller
  Since the woodland caribou in Montana's Selkirk Mountains were listed as an endangered species in 1983, the caribou population has more than doubled, from 23 animals to 50. But without intensive management by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Selkirk's caribou are doomed, says David Tallmon, a biologist at the University of Montana. The population is still so small that gender and age classes are skewed, leaving the caribou vulnerable to random environmental stress, according to Tallmon's computer modeling. The immediate pressure comes from poachers, who account for 80 percent of caribou deaths; because the caribou are so rare (the Selkirks support the only population in the lower 48 states), their antlers and chestnut-colored coats are desired trophies. Logging roads give poachers more access, and the logging has eaten into habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service has designated critical caribou habitat, but environmentalists want the zone expanded and other herds established. Tallmon's 14-page study, The Population Viability Analysis of the Selkirk Woodland Caribou, was done for a graduate genetics course and the environmental group, Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Copies can be obtained from the Alliance, P.O. Box 8731, Missoula, MT 59807 (406/721-5420).