In 2012, Boise Weekly traveled to Idaho's Panhandle
to examine the fate of the woodland caribou, commonly known as Canadian reindeer, who traveled the narrow southern spine of the Selkirk Mountains, which straddle Idaho and Washington and run up into Canada. That year, a survey found only 27 woodland caribou in the region. And just this week, the last caribou known to inhabit the contiguous U.S. was taken from the region and moved to a captive rearing pen in Revelstoke, Alberta, west of Calgary. Biologists said it's a last-ditch effort to preserve the highly endangered species. Science magazine reports
that the female caribou captured on Jan. 14 is believed to be the last member of the final herd to regularly cross from Canada into the lower 48 states.
"It was like losing a piece of the tribe in some way," Bart George, wildlife biologist for the Kalispel Tribe, told Science
. The tribe had been pushing the U.S. and Canadian governments to maintain the wild nature of the border-crossing herd.
Woodland caribou have been listed as an endangered species in the United States since the early 1980s.
Sometime in February, biologists from British Columbia plan to release the recently captured female caribou, along with two other animals from another endangered herd, back into the wild—what the biologists say will be a larger, more stable Canadian herd far from the border.
What hangs in the balance is not just the survival of a unique caribou population, but the "ecological integrity of the entire inland temperate rainforest," according to Science.
"The protections on core habitat for caribou are an umbrella, a huge umbrella, that protects so many other species," said British Columbia wildlife biologist Aaron Reid.