The next extinction on the national forests

Based on this year’s winter survey, the federally endangered South Selkirk mountain caribou herd may be down to three individuals – all females.  That would not be good for continued viability of the species on national forest lands.  We can try to blame Canada for what’s happened to this cross-boundary herd, but, “The mountain caribou have struggled as old growth forests have been thinned by logging and other industrial activities, George said. With thinner forests the caribou have become more susceptible to predation.”  There has been a lot of that on the Idaho Panhandle and Colville national forests over the years, though maybe not recently.  However, as recently as 2007, the Forest Service lost a lawsuit brought because of their failure to protect caribou from snowmobiles.

It would be hard to say that national forest management has had nothing to do with their current status.  Mark Hebblewhite, a Canadian wildlife biologist at the University of Montana and a science adviser to the Canadian government put it this way:

“It’s game over …  The functional loss of this herd is the legacy of decades of government mismanagement across caribou range.  It is completely unsurprising. Bad things happen to small populations.”

Meanwhile, north of the border, the boreal woodland caribou may become Canada’s spotted owl, as conflicts with logging are driving it towards extinction.   A letter from the Alberta government to Ottawa said “now is not the time to impede” an economic recovery currently underway in Alberta.  Maybe when there are three females left.

10 thoughts on “The next extinction on the national forests”

  1. This is distressing but I’ll take some comfort knowing the USFS will NEVER let Doug fir, Ponderosa or other crop tree species become extinct! Gotta set your priorities, right?
    Good thing we have the ESA to influence managers. Haha!

  2. Note there is a 1820’s recorded observation of caribou almost as far south as Boise. It’s in a Hudson Bay Company document. Also, there once were caribou in NW Montana, near Yaak. It’s forgotten that they were there.

  3. I am a bit puzzled. It looks like the same lab is doing research exploring the wolf/caribou/development interaction. If it is known, why do they need to do this research?

    I’m not saying National Forest management, or the development of housing, or fires, or “industrial development” (does Montana have oil and gas in caribou country? otherwise what is “industrial development” composed of?) have no effects, of course not. But populations appear to have been declining within Jasper Park as well.

    So if that is true, and Jasper Park has no logging, then…

  4. (that bisects the heartland of the caribou range in Canada just north of the international boundary). This roadway has serious snow conditions in the winter, which of course means lots of salting of the roadway for truck traffic, which means a significant loss of caribou who are attracted to the salt on the road. Not only did these critters once roam eastward into Montana, but there are records of mtn. caribou west into the Okanogan NF as well. Efforts by the industry to road and log the Salmo within the Colville NF were thankfully stopped by Spokane area conservationists, but in spite of this the caribou are essentially “gone”. I understand that cougars have been the major predator on this herd, not wolves.

  5. Yes, caribou have lots of problems. So does that lead to “might as well write them off,” or “everything that could be done for them on public lands should be done?” I think NFMA requires (or for caribou, maybe required) the latter for national forests.

    • I’m not sure about NFMA language, perhaps the 1982 Rule?
      And about “everything on public lands” that might mean closing highways, changing deicers, closing caribou country to all public entry, managing predators (unless that’s a State thing), changing fire suppression strategies, stopping climate change.. it seems to me that rational decisions depend on:
      1. Estimated likelihood that an intervention or combo will work, combined with 2. Physical, social and economic possibilities of trying it.

      For example, Indiana bat. You could stop doing everything on the Forests, but since it’s a disease that’s killing them maybe it makes more sense to work on that. (brought to the US by .. European hikers?).

  6. NFMA says to provide for diversity. Diversity has been defined by both planning rules as species viability. The requirement is to do enough things to maintain viability; there is no “reasonableness” qualifier allowing extirpation of a species. Even where a viable population can’t be maintained on a national forest, under the 2012 planning rule the forest plan must “maintain or restore ecological conditions within the plan area to contribute to maintaining a viable population of the species within its range.” The Forest Service is not in a position to say “let somebody else deal with it,” even when the somebody else could be more effective. (For listed species like caribou, forest plans must also contribute to recovery, which is also a requirement for federal highways.)

  7. Time to write the epitaph: “This is not the consequence of choices made last week or last year. These are the consequences of decades of choices.”

    Canadian officials announced last week plans to relocate the six surviving caribou that still occasionally enter the United States farther into Canada. “When you cut down an old-growth forest, you get a whole bunch of productive food,” Hebblewhite said. That food attracts elk and deer, and with them come cougars and wolves. That’s a problem for caribou, whose primary defense against predation is staying far away from predators.


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