Tag Archives: kalispel tribe

None Of Last 3 South Selkirk Caribou Were Pregnant

More grim news about the last herd of mountain caribou known to frequent the Lower 48: Pregnancy tests on the remaining three females all came back negative.

That means the subpopulation of North America’s southernmost caribou is dangerously close to becoming extirpated from Washington and Idaho.


The news has left wildlife biologists wondering what to do next.

“We don’t really know,” said Bart George with the Kalispel Tribe north of Spokane. “We’re trying to figure that out, talking to our Canadian counterparts.”

The only three members of the South Selkirk Herd seen during a three-day March survey, biological samples were taken from the cows during capture and collar operations, and George had been hopeful that they’d been bred the previous fall.

But the negative results now suggest that the other animals all died between late winter 2017’s count of 11 and last October’s and November’s rut.

“I don’t know where we would’ve missed them,” George said of this year’s search.

He points to changed predator-prey dynamics in the heights where the caribou feed on lichen that grows on old-growth timber, which is being logged, opening up browse for deer, moose and elk, which brought up bears, cougars and increasingly, wolves.

George said that the three South Selkirk females are otherwise in their prime breeding years.

“They should have been bred” if there was another bull in the area, he said.

It’s now bitterly ironic, but last fall a maternity pen was constructed specifically for these females to be able to rear calves in a predator-proof enclosure.

Another recent survey found just four mountain caribou in the South Purcell herd, which roams near Kimberley, BC, about 40 miles north of the international border.

George said it’s possible that that quartet — all bulls — could end up together with the South Selkirk trio.

Recent news coverage of the dramatic decline in the herd focused on the word extinction, but that’s not really the correct term.

“If this herd is extirpated, it’s a pretty significant range constriction for southern mountain caribou,” said George.

But he’s still not ready to give up hope.

“We’re still going to be managing caribou one way or another. We’re going to do our best for this herd and try getting caribou back on the landscape,” he said.

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.