More sad news about herds, this time it is caribou numbers.
SANDPOINT, Idaho — In the frozen Selkirk Mountains near the Canadian border, the last tiny herd of caribou in the Lower 48 states is fighting for survival.
The less than three dozen remaining animals struggle with starvation, an increase of predators and, more recently, powerful snowmobiles that roar through their winter range.
Conservationists have sued to ban snowmobiles from caribou habitat, and tension between the groups is rising.
“There is no prospect for negotiation,” said Mark Sprengel of the Selkirk Conservation Alliance, whose members have been branded domestic terrorists by some snowmobilers. “I think these people are capable of extreme acts.”
Critics contend snowmobiles disturb caribou during the winter, when they are already struggling to survive on low-nutrition lichen from old-growth trees. Modern snowmobiles have a wider range, allowing them to go deeper into caribou backcountry.
The groomed snowmobile trails also provide surer footing for deer, and the cougars that prey on them, to enter caribou habitat.
Caribou were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1984, and are considered by some the most endangered animal in the Lower 48 states, Sprengel said. Herds numbering in the hundreds of thousands still roam in Alaska.
Of the estimated 34 caribou in the south Selkirk herd, only three were spotted on the U.S. side of the border last winter.