Wildlife Department taking input on mountain caribou

Wildlife Department taking input on mountain caribou

Conservation Northwest / Dec 20, 2016 / Caribou

A majestic caribou bull in the Selkirk Mountains. Photo: USFWS

Comments on the status of Southern Mountains Ecotype of Woodland Caribou in Washington state

The Selkirk Mountains in northeast Washington and northern Idaho are home to one of the rarest creatures on the planet: the unique mountain ecotype of woodland caribou, or mountain caribou. Unlike other populations of woodland caribou, these shy creatures make their home in mountainous areas with deep snow accumulations, feeding primarily on arboreal lichens (hanging mosses).

The world’s southernmost caribou and the only remaining caribou in the lower 48 states, the South Selkirks Mountain Caribou Herd is a disappearing treasure of our natural heritage. Today, likely only a dozen animals remain in this transboundary landscape, affected by habitat loss and predators and isolated from larger (but still threatened) mountain caribou populations further north in eastern B.C.

As one step in the conservation of this iconic species, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recently updated its Draft Periodic Status Review for the Woodland Caribou. The Department is accepting public and scientific feedback on that document through December 23.

At the core of this update is the recommendation by WDFW that mountain caribou remain classified as a state endangered species in Washington, and that state listing is warranted and supported by ample peer reviewed data. Conservation Northwest strongly supports this recommendation.

We believe the species background, natural history, status of populations and habitat, threats, and current suite of management actions identified in WDFW’s Draft Periodic Status Review for the Woodland Caribou (DPSR) are well-documented and supported by decades of peer reviewed research. We appreciate that the Department has updated the DPSR thoroughly.

Though the relevant jurisdictions (British Columbia provincial government, United States federal government, tribal nations, and the state governments of Washington and Idaho) have taken steps to mitigate the historic threats to mountain caribou, some threats remain outstanding or only partially addressed. The cumulative impacts and threats to habitat that have facilitated caribou declines persist and threaten to further diminish habitat effectiveness. On the U.S. side of the border this concern has manifested in the greatly downsized Critical Habitat draft rule proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has been disputed in court by Conservation Northwest and other wildlife advocates.

On the bright side, the Canadian federal and British Columbia governments have determined that all mountain caribou subpopulations are recoverable, including the transboundary South Selkirks herd, if all the conservation levers are exercised fully and simultaneously.

The DPSR accurately identifies most of the available conservation tools except for captive breeding and the combination of captive breeding with other tools like maternity penning and predator controls. These are strategies that are being employed in Canada, and some stakeholders are studying ways to utilize them successfully in the United States on behalf of the South Selkirks caribou population. We’re hopeful those efforts gain momentum and offer an additional tool for recovering the last caribou in the Lower 48

In summary, we support the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Draft Periodic Status Review for the Woodland Caribou, and its recommendation that the species remain listed as endangered in our state. We have voiced this support to the Department, and our staff are continuing to work on behalf of mountain caribou in both Washington and southern British Columbia.

If you’d like to submit comments to voice your support for keeping caribou protected, and to encourage state, federal, and tribal caribou managers to take further steps to recover this unique species in Washington and Idaho, you can submit comments to WDFW through December 23, 2016.

Written comments on the reviews and recommendations can be submitted via email to TandEpubliccom@dfw.wa.gov or by mail to Hannah Anderson, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091.

Learn more about mountain caribou, and our work to support their recovery in Washington and British Columbia at: www.conservationnw.org/caribou or at www.mountaincaribou.ca.