KALISPELL - It's now rare to see a woodland caribou in its native Montana habitat, but wildlife officials are encouraged after new reports from rural residents.
A release from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks says they're seeing reports of a bull and cow caribou in separate locations near the U.S./Canada border.
Woodland caribou once ranged in enormous herds across Montana and Canada, but their population has drastically dwindled due to loss of habitat and predators, according to FWP.
Hunters are reminded to be sure of their targets this season, as caribou are a protected species. They're as big as mule deer but with unique antlers and coloration.
From FWP's release:
Rare Caribou Sightings Reported in Northwest Montana
Montana FWP working with wildlife biologists in British Columbia
Kalispell, MT — Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks regional staff have received reports of a rare sight in northwest Montana.
Residents have recently documented sightings of woodland caribou near the U.S.-Canada border. The multiple sightings include the potential for a bull and a cow in separate locations.
Caribou, members of the deer family, are native to northwest Montana but have almost completely disappeared from the contiguous United States over the last half century.
Woodland caribou herds once stretched from central British Columbia to Idaho, Montana and Washington. The decline in population is largely attributed to high mortality linked to habitat fragmentation, alteration, loss of old growth forest, and subsequent predation impacts. Woodland caribou are now protected in the United States and British Columbia.
Caribou have been known to roam from the Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges in southern B.C into Montana, Idaho and Washington but the occurrences have become increasingly rare.
Caribou are similar in size to mule deer but have different coloration, large round hooves and unique antlers. Even cow caribou can have visible small antlers.
“There are three weeks left of big-game hunting season in Montana. Hunters are reminded to be sure of their target and beyond,” said Neil Anderson, FWP Region 1 wildlife manager.
After confirming reports of the recent sightings, Montana FWP contacted wildlife biologists in British Columbia and informed them of the sightings. FWP will continue to work closely with partners in British Columbia on the conservation of the species.
Read More: Montana Outdoors, 2013, “Much Too Short a Visit,” http://fwp.mt.gov/mtoutdoors/HTML/articles/2013/caribou.htm