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Selkirk Mountains Woodland Caribou Herd Augmentation in Washington: A Cooperative Interagency Plan

Category: Wildlife Research and Management - Non-Game Management and Conservation

Date Published: January 1996

Number of Pages: 34

Author(s): Suzanne Audet and Harriet Allen

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

The Selkirk Mountain woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species in the United States. It is also designated as an endangered species in Washington by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The recovery plan for the caribou (USFWS, original 1985; revised 1994) includes a task to establish caribou in the western portion of the Selkirk Ecosystem in Washington. Transplants to the western portion of the ecosystem are needed to achieve better distribution, greater abundance, and to enhance the probability of caribou recovery.

The augmentation project entails capturing caribou in separate, but genetically similar subpopulations in British Columbia, transporting the animals to Washington, releasing them into the wild, and monitoring the results. Previous herd augmentation efforts for the southern Selkirk caribou population involved transplanting caribou from healthy populations in British Columbia to the Ball Creek area of Idaho. A total of 60 caribou were transplanted: 24 in 1987; 24 in 1988; and 12 in 1990. Information and experience gained in the Idaho effort will be used to increase the chances for success of the Washington project.

Three potential sources for transplant animals in British Columbia will be considered: Revelstoke, Blue River/Wells Gray Park, and Prince George. British Columbia officials will determine the number and sources of transplant animals. The target number of animals for the first year will be 20-24 animals, with a sex ratio of 1 male: 4-5 females. Preferred age composition is males 3 years or younger, calves, yearlings, and adult females. Old-aged females or animals in poor condition will be excluded. Methods will follow those used in the Idaho augmentation effort, which experienced very low mortality rates. Animals will be captured in March, using net guns from helicopters. They will be held for tuberculosis and brucellosis testing and then transported to the release site in Washington.

Four potential release sites on the Sullivan Lake Ranger District of the Colville National Forest were evaluated. One site, Molybdenite Ridge was eliminated from consideration. Potential release sites, in order of preference are: Pass Creek, Mankato Mountain, and upper Sullivan Creek. All are within the Caribou Habitat Area, are currently managed as caribou habitat under the Colville National Forest Plan (U.S. Forest Service 1988), and will require no change in management to accommodate the augmentation effort. The final site selection will depend upon weather conditions and road access at the time of release.

Preliminary work (administrative, habitat mapping, caribou feeding trials) has been conducted during 1995 to facilitate the augmentation project. Pending funding approval, the first transplant will take place in March 1996. Caribou recovery is an interagency and international effort requiring public support and involvement. Law enforcement needs are identified in the augmentation plan and will emphasize prevention of accidental or intentional shooting. Information/Education needs are also addressed in the plan. Some of the information/ education efforts used during the Idaho augmentation effort, such as the "Adopt a Caribou" program, will be used in the Washington project.