Some caribou spotted along Highway 23N this spring. (Photo by Darlene Cancelliere)

Some caribou spotted along Highway 23N this spring. (Photo by Darlene Cancelliere)

U.S. caribou near Revelstoke survive first year

Recent surveys indicate further decline for the animal near Revelstoke

The three remaining U.S. caribou from the lower 48 states have survived their first winter near Revelstoke.

The animals, known as the Gray Ghosts, were from the Southern Selkirk herd, which spanned the Canada and U.S. border. The caribou were relocated last year to pens north of Revelstoke and released last spring.

READ MORE: U.S. protects already extinct caribou herd

READ MORE: VIDEO: Soon-to-be-extinct caribou moved north of Revelstoke

Aaron Reid, regional caribou biologist, said the animals are doing well.

The animals, along with a lone caribou calf named Grace, are now part of the Columbia North herd. The Gray Ghosts relocation to Revelstoke, extirpated the species in the lower 48 states.

B.C. is working on provincial caribou recovery plans to help the endangered animal. In February, the provincial and federal government unveiled an agreement to add two million acres to protected areas in northern B.C. to help the endangered animals.

B.C. has yet to release caribou plans for Revelstoke. The province is aiming to release them by the fall.

READ MORE: Province says upcoming caribou plans for Revelstoke shouldn’t largely impact industry or recreation

According to the B.C. government, caribou in the province have declined from 40,000 animals in the early 1900s to less than 19,000 today.

Each year, depending on snowpack depths, the province tries to survey caribou herds near Revelstoke. Reid said the snowpack has to be greater than 300 cm depth. A larger snowpack allows caribou to reach lichen growing higher up on tree trunks and branches. Lichen is one of the main food source for caribou.

Reid said a higher snowpack also drives caribou into the sub-alpine, which has more open areas and is therefore easier for government to conduct aerial surveys for determining population levels.

The province was able to survey some herds near Revelstoke before the counts were halted by COVID-19.

In 2016, the Columbia South herd had four animals. This spring, it still had four.

The Frisby-Boulder-Queest herd had 11 animals in 2013. This year, biologists counted six.

“Both of those herds are too small to survive on their own,” said Reid.

The province did not get a chance to survey Columbia North, which had 147 animals in 2017. Reid said the government estimates that herd is slightly increasing.

“We’re eagerly awaiting to have a look.”

Another two caribou from the Purcells were released with the U.S. caribou last spring from pens north of Revelstoke. However, the pair did not survive the winter. One died during calving and cause of death for the other is unknown said Reid.


 

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