Only 3 South Selkirk Caribou Left, Intensive Survey Finds

There may be only three mountain caribou left in Washington’s, Idaho’s and British Columbia’s herd — a 75-percent decline since last year.


Mid-March’s intensive three-day winter survey found only cows as well.

“It’s a tough situation for caribou in the South Selkirks,” says Bart George, a wildlife biologist for the Kalispel Tribe in Cusick, north of Spokane.

It marks a new low for a herd challenged by large-scale habitat alterations and new predators, wolves, arriving in the heights.

At one time mountain caribou were as numerous as “bugs,” according to a First Nations man interviewed for Last Stand: The Vanishing Caribou Rainforest, a film that made the rounds in the region last summer.

George says that the three cows, which are fairly young animals of seven years or less, were all captured and given GPS collars.

They were also tested to see if they were pregnant.

Those results just arrived in Vancouver and “hopefully” will be available soon, he says, but if the animals are pregnant, that would mean there may still be a bull or two somewhere out there on the landscape, or at least was last fall.

And if the cows successfully bear calves, the herd could possibly rebuild to six later this spring, George says.

If not, managers may need to supplement with caribou from farther north — though that may also depend on what surveys in the Purcell Mountains turn up.

“We’re not going to just let three animals, especially cows, die in the Selkirks,” George vows.

This winter has been pretty solid in this mountainous country, with snowpack at 150 percent of average — “great for caribou” — but it also buried a maternity pen that was built especially for the cows, rendering it useless for protection from predators.

It’s also too late to safely recapture the cows if they are pregnant, George says.

He plans to intensify his monitoring of the herd with a spotting scope, maybe even drones, in hopes of finding that they had calves.

The collars may also lead them to other caribou that somehow were overlooked during the fixed-wing and helicopter surveys last month.

“We were hoping for 12 again,” George says.

As for why the herd’s numbers dropped so precipitously from a dozen in March 2017, he says it’s possible that other members had been hit by an avalanche or there was a vehicle strike on the main highway through the mountains, though he didn’t hear of one.

“We’re still going to move forward as if there are caribou on the landscape, and go ahead with wolf control actions” on the BC side of the herd’s range, George says.

He notes that there’s a collar on one of Washington’s Salmo Pack, which numbers six and overlaps with the ungulate’s recovery zone.

Though the caribou primarily stay in Canada, the southernmost herd in North America still make occasional forays into Washington and Idaho, according to collar data, George says.


Correction: The Kalispel Tribe’s name and headquarters were incorrect in the original version of this post. They are based in Cusick, not Ione, further north on the Pend Oreille River.

7 thoughts on “Only 3 South Selkirk Caribou Left, Intensive Survey Finds”

  1. Is Bart George the only one in NE Washington and N. Idaho that thinks they may have been in an accident on the highway or that an avalanche killed them all? With 60 to 80 Wolves in the Selkirks in Idaho and the Cabinets in Idaho and Montana a dozen Caribou were never going to survive. Notice he says that Wolf control will happen in BC, where the Herd is more than stable but fails to mention Washington or Idaho. Which species in in more danger, Wolves or Mt Caribou?

  2. You better harvest the wolves and mountain lions or no chance at all, sorry to see this happens another reason to thanks Ed Bangs and his cronies for the introduction of wolves to Idaho and Montana.

  3. How about we stop jerking at everybody’s heart strings and do the right thing? We have the technology to clone each and every one of these species facing extinction yet we would rather bitch about them becoming extinct than use the technology we have to save them! smh

  4. Maybe these caribou ate not meant to survive here. Also easy escape to blame wolves. What about mining, logging, ski dooing, quading and road building. What ever way you look at it we are the cause of it. Stop blaming wolves and look at other areas of interference.

    1. Typical human response by other commenters here to target wolves for everything and while obviously yes wolves play a part, they are a natural part of the ecosystem that ranged far and wide before humans wiped them in areas before reintroducing them in a maddening cycle. Perhaps the continuous failure to acknowledge the ever increasing human impact on habitat loss and the loss of migration routes for these animals is the far greater problem!

  5. Michael Pieters, out of all of they above reasons only one isn’t ridiculous and can be reasonably related to these caribou’s declining numbers.

    First off, the mining you are referring to in that area is not the large scale commercialized mining your thinking about. It also hasn’t been an active area since the very early 20th century and was limited in areas where it would “impact” these animals sustainability.

    Ski lodges, again this is not a factor. Ski resorts are for the most part in the highest areas where there is little to no vegetation except during the summer. These areas are great for mountain goats and such but not for caribou as caribou eat lichens off the trees. Yes, there are trees up at these altitudes but where most resorts are built there are more vertical slopes and less trees which is ideal for snow sports. Also there has been limited to no impact to similar mammals like Moose and Elk who frequent similar areas in the summer months.

    Road building and “quading” (which I don’t believe is a word) do play some role in where the animals frequent as well as increase potential for vehicle strikes but, just like other animals they just alter where they frequent.

    Ski-“dooing” is another stretch as it mainly alters where they hang out and pushes them to be more nocturnal to avoid interaction.

    The only logical option you have is deforestation which even though we replace the trees the regrow the periods are shorter and planting designs don’t allow for the new trees to grow as large (increasing width) which DIRECTLY impacts lichen growth.

    But the most realistic option is that the ever changing environment over the last thousand or so years has gradually shifted their ranges out of the Selkirk Range. Leaving the few remaining animals to be eliminated by the Wolves that were reintroduced to the area. You really should read about the actua wolves that were reintroduced because they are not the same as you would Ike to believe.

    Finally, I do agree that everything we do carries an impact but please don’t try piecing together illogical
    Inferences to support an emotional response. Also, if you even made it this far in my response please don’t sit there thinking I don’t have any background/education in these topics and you are more well versed than I am.

    If you need some dry reading material or reports I’ll “Dig” some page turners up for you.


  6. So bring back the caribou so it can be hunted and killed off again. Bloodlust by hunters at its finest. Kill off the predators so people can kill instead. Sounds pretty illogical to me except for those who can’t get enough thrill except to destroy another life.

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