Caribou are seen in the Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia, Canada, in 2012. The herd has since fallen to three members, all female. Photo: B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure
Canada | Environment | National

Only caribou herd in lower 48 United States declared 'functionally extinct'

The only caribou herd in the lower 48 United States has been declared "functionally extinct" because it is down to just three animals, all female.

“It’s devastating that we’ve nearly lost the South Selkirks caribou herd,” said John Bergenske of the Wildsight conservation group.

The South Selkirk Mountains herd spends most of its time in southern British Columbia, Canada. But the caribou also live in Idaho and Washington in the U.S., where the Kootenai Tribe and the Kalispel Tribe have been trying to protect the remaining members.

When the Kootenai Tribe signed an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a species recovery plan, only about a dozen Selkirk caribou were documented in the U.S., about the same number reported in a 2017 study. But an aerial survey from this spring found the much lower number of three.

"Without a male, it’s game over,” Mark Hebblewhite, a wildlife biologist at the University of Montana, told The National Post.

The Selkirk aren't the only caribou in danger of disappearing. According to Wildsight, the South Purcells census last year only counted 13 animals. Overall, fewer than 250 are left in the Southern mountain caribou herds, the group said.

Despite Selkirk's extremely low numbers, local and industry interests in Idaho are seeking to have the herd removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative leaning group that has fought the federal government on sacred sites and other issues, the isolated population does not qualify under the law.

In response to the litigation, the Fish and Wildlife Service in April 2016 solicited public input on the critical habitat for the herd. Though the comment period closed nearly two years ago, an updated decision was never published in the Federal Register.

A different, and larger, population of caribou resides in Alaska and in Canada. The herd there is considered essential to the Gwich'in Nation.

Read More on the Story:
Last caribou in lower 48 US states all but extinct: 'The herd is functionally lost' (The Guardian April 19, 2018)
'It’s game over': Last 'Grey Ghost' caribou herd is down to just three members, all female (The National Post April 17, 2018)
B.C.'s Selkirk Mountains' Gray Ghost caribou herd 'functionally extinct' (The Vancouver Sun April 17,, 2018)
Only three caribou left in South Selkirk herd (The Kimberley Bulletin April 16, 2018)
Gray Ghosts, the Last Caribou in the Lower 48 States, Are ‘Functionally Extinct’ (The New York Times April 14, 2018)

Related Stories:
Kootenai Tribe aims to revive only herd of caribou in United States (October 3, 2016)
Kootenai Tribe to create recovery plan for last wild caribou herd (August 31, 2015)