Bambi, or Rudolph?

Woodland caribou in the United States were decimated by overhunting and logging. Now they face additional challenges. Photo: Joseph N. Hall under a Creative Commons license. Via Cool Green Science.

Cool Green Science, The Nature Conservancy’s blog that we have started visiting to find more of our kind of news, has re-run their post from last year on the conflict between populations of caribou and white-tailed deer in North America. Matt Miller reports:

Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed Reindeer versus Bambi: yes, it sounds like a really bad holiday special. Maybe the worst ever.

Don’t worry; that’s not the case here. But along the Canada border in northern Idaho and eastern Washington, a struggle is playing out pitting the real-life counterparts of Rudolph (caribou) and Disney’s Bambi (white-tailed deer).

The quick version: woodland caribou, the rarest large mammal in the “lower 48” states have faced dramatic changes in forest habitat. White-tailed deer, drawn by the new habitat, have moved in and thrived.

The large numbers of deer have drawn more predators, notably mountain lions. And those mountain lions prey on the less wary, easier-to-kill caribou. An already beleaguered caribou population faces what may be its final straw.

In this case, Bambi wins. But there is nothing simple about this story, not really. For conservationists, it raises far more questions than answers.

Most people know caribou (also known as reindeer) as animals of the tundra. And indeed, that is where the large herds of these animals thrive.

But there is a subspecies of caribou that lives in forested terrain. Woodland caribou once ranged across the northern tier of the United States.  They lived in old-growth forest, where they ate primarily lichens. In this open forest habitat, they were able to see and evade predators.

Overhunting and logging devastated woodland caribou populations, but animals continued to survive in the Selkirk Mountains of Idaho, Washington and British Columbia. Theodore Roosevelt hunted them in the Selkirks in 1888, thirteen years before he became president (he tells the excellent story of that adventure in his book The Wilderness Hunter).

By the 1950s, only 100 caribou remained in the Selkirks. Eventually, wildlife managers translocated woodland caribou from farther north in British Columbia. This effort failed.

Today, the herd moves back and forth across the border. By most accounts, no more than 45 animals remain. The number that roam into Idaho and Washington had dwindled into the single digits. In 2012, no caribou were spotted in the “lower 48.”

You can read the original post here.

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