Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) are all but gone from the lower 48 states in the USA. There is only one natural population left that roams along the boundaries of northern Idaho, north-eastern Washington and British Columbia in Canada. The herd is estimated at about 40 individuals and spends most of its time north of the border in Canada. Stagleap Provincial Park in British Columbia is especially important to this herd and in winter the woodland caribou are quite visible to people as they lick road salt along Highway 3 which cuts through the Park. Woodland caribou mainly feed on ground and arboreal lichen and the latter is especially present in old growth forests. Woodland caribou used to have a much wider distribution in the northern Rocky Mountains in Idaho, Montana and Washington and their disappearance is related to a range of issues. Changes in the landscape, including the logging of old growth forests, and predation, particularly by mountain lions (Puma concolor), are among the primary reasons for the steep decline of woodland caribou in the southern portion of their range. In addition to their effect on food availability, logging and agriculture also increased edge habitat. Edge habitat is associated with high white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) populations which in turn may have allowed for an increase in mountain lion densities. Changes in the landscape may also have allowed elk (Cervus canadensis) and moose (Alces alces) to increase their numbers, again resulting in a greater prey base for predators that also hunt caribou. Roads and other linear features, such as power line corridors, may also allow for better hunting efficiency by predators, improve access for poachers, and fragment caribou populations. In addition, caribou presence is negatively associated with snowmobiling, and sometimes caribou are hit by vehicles, including on Highway 3 at and near Kootenay Pass in Stagleap Provincial Park. Warning signs such as the one below have been placed along Highway 3 to increase awareness among drivers. Click here for other images of warning signs for woodland caribou.
All content © 2012 Marcel Huijser