A recent aerial survey revealed there are only three wild caribou left in the contiguous United States. Biologists say the chances to save them are slim, but an international recovery team is still trying.
Before the 19th century, thousands of woodland caribou ranged from Washington to New England. But then those herds were decimated by overhunting, logging and broken-up habitat.
Now you can count the number of wild caribou left in the Lower 48 on one hand. They live in the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho.
“It’s hard to keep a lot of optimism in such a dire situation,” said Bart George, a wildlife biologist with the Kalispel Tribe in eastern Washington.
He’s part of a group of state, tribal, provincial and federal biologists that are trying to save the woodland caribou.
It was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1983.
And while there are still some in Canada, they’re now they’re functionally extinct in the contiguous United States.
Still, the recovery team isn’t giving up hope.
“We’re still working on ways to keep caribou on the ground and in the landscape here that the Kalispel Tribe uses,” George said.
That includes building big pens to keep pregnant caribou safe from predators like wolves and mountain lions.
But if those remaining animals aren’t pregnant or if they are all female, biologists may just cut their losses and move the last three caribou into bigger herds north of the border.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.