Rare caribou sightings reported in Northwest Montana

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File photo courtesy Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Rare and documented sightings of woodland caribou in Montana led the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to alert wildlife biologists in British Columbia and to remind big-game hunters to make sure of their targets.

Dillon Tabish, a spokesman for FWP’s Region 1, said the department is being circumspect about where the woodland caribou were seen. The department reported only that the animals, reportedly a bull and a cow, were seen in separate locations in Northwest Montana near the U.S.-Canada border.

“We’re purposely not disclosing the specific location,” Tabish said.

He said no one at FWP has seen the animals but that biologists have viewed photos and heard of multiple sightings in recent weeks.

“We were just as surprised as anyone to see photos of caribou in Montana,” Tabish said.

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, FWP said. 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, according to FWP.

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 said it will continue to work closely with partners in British Columbia on the conservation of the species.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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