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Woodland caribou

Woodland caribou are one of the most endangered large mammals in North America. They live in the Inland Temperate Rainforest of eastern British Columbia and Selkirk Mountains of northeastern Washington.

Caribou photo, Wayne Sawchuk

Conservation Northwest works closely with conservation groups in Canada (the Mountain Caribou Project) to protect the rare woodland caribou (called mountain caribou in Canada).

In 2007, Conservation Northwest and the Mountain Caribou Project convinced the B.C. government to protect 5 million acres of critical winter habitat for woodland caribou.

Woodland caribou are a unique variety of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) unique to the lush, old-growth forests of the Inland Temperate Rainforest. They survived the Pleistocene Ice Age extinctions that erased mammoths, mastodons, short-faced bears, and ice-age camels.

Resilient but not invulnerable

Woodland caribou are considered one of the most endangered large mammals in North America. Loss of old-growth habitat to logging and other development have removed old growth and reduced mountain caribou herds to just 1,900 animals.

They are listed as "endangered" in the United States, where a small herd lingers on in the southern Selkirk Mountains, crossing over between Washington state and Idaho. In British Columbia, mountain caribou are"red-listed" under the Species at Risk Act, which offers lukewarm protections compared to the US Endangered Species Act.

Tree lichens are caribou food
Tree lichens are caribou food

In B.C., logging, road building, and motorized recreation are still caribou's chief threats.

Iconic wildlife
Iconic wildlife

Fragmentation and loss of remaining old-growth forest harms caribou

  • Caribou rely in winter on arboreal lichens which develop only in old-growth forests.
  • Loss of forests has altered predator/prey relationships: clearcuts and roads provide a more attractive environment for whitetail deer, elk, and moose. As these ungulates move onto the cut-over landscape, cougars and wolves follow. They prey upon caribou as well.
  • The continuing proliferation of motorized recreation in winter such as snowmobiling stresses mountain caribou during a season when their health is weakest. This can force caribou are into poorer habitat, where predation and avalanche risks are higher and nutrition sources marginal.

See a map of current and historic Mountain Caribou distribution or visit the Mountain Caribou Project

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