The Latest: Woodland caribou are in danger of disappearing from the U.S.

Environmental groups file suit over caribou habitat.

  • Caribou like this one still roam in Alaska's Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve, but Washington's Selkirk herd has yet to regain its numbers despite three decades on the Endangered Species List.


In the United States, woodland caribou once ranged from Maine to Washington state, but an isolated subspecies in northern Idaho and Washington's Selkirk Mountains is all that remains. The 30 to 50 caribou in the Southern Selkirk herd have been protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1983, but their numbers remain well below the target population of 125 ("Caribou population still too small," HCN, 11/14/94). In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed setting aside 375,000 acres as critical habitat, but snowmobilers, loggers and politicians objected. Last November, the protected area was slashed by more than 90 percent.

On Sept. 30, six environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a lawsuit against Fish and Wildlife, claiming that the abrupt reduction in habitat violates the Endangered Species Act. The 30,010 acres don't offer enough high-elevation old-growth forest, they say, and the reduction further shifts  responsibility for the species' survival to Canada, where most of the world's woodland caribou now roam.

David Olsen
David Olsen
Nov 07, 2013 09:57 AM
Habitat is of course a crucial long term part of the solution to insure the survival of the Mountain Caribou. As I have been told by a USFS biologist working on the Selkirk heard, currently most of the area rejected for Caribou habitat is not used by the herd and also is off limits to snowmobiles by court order pending the USFS creating a suitable use plan for offroad vehicles.

Other factors are in play too. Caribou are being lost crossing Canadian highways, to cougar and in some areas, wolves. An interesting interplay has to do with moose/wolf populations and predation on Mountain Caribou.

Seeing a set of enormous prints in the snow in a alpine canyon of the Kokanee's was one of the highlights of a ski trip.