US caribou almost gone

The last remaining caribou herd in the lower 48 has been declared effectively extinct, according to a story in the New York Times. Recent aerial surveys counted only three animals in the herd.

Woodland caribou once ranged into Montana as far south as Lolo Pass in the Bitterroot.

The small and dwindling herd that roamed into the United States used the  Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and Washington near the Canadian border part of the year.

A University of Montana wildlife biologist blamed mismanagement in British Columbia for the vanishing herd.

“The functional loss of this herd is the legacy of decades of government mismanagement across caribou range,” said Mark Hebblewhite, a wildlife biologist at the University of Montana, in the story in the New York Times.

The animals require old growth forest to survive. During the winter the animals move up slope in areas of heavy snow. The caribou's large hooves allow it to stand on, rather than plunge into deep snow. This allows them to feed on Old Man's Beard, a lichen that grows in old growth trees.

The deep snow also protects the caribou from predators, which move down slope in winter.

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