COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — Officials in British Columbia will use helicopter gunners to shoot up to 24 wolves just north of the Idaho border this winter in an effort to save the 18 remaining southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou in a herd from extinction.
The Spokesman Review reports that both the caribou and wolves roam across the Canadian border into north Idaho and northeast Washington. The herd has struggled from losses of old-growth habitat and other issues. Snowmobiling has been restricted in most of the core recovery area in Canada and the United States.
The South Selkirk herd was 46 strong in 2009, but it dropped to 27 in 2012, officials said. The latest survey puts the herd at 18. The caribou are listed as endangered species in the U.S. and British Columbia. Wolves are the leading cause of the decline, officials said.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources announced the wolf-removal plan this week, but the agency has been working on it for more than a year, said Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manager in Coeur d’Alene.
Idaho and Washington wildlife officials were consulted, as well as First Nations, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian officials said. “B.C. considered removing wolves last year,” Wakkinen said. “We authorized them to operate into Idaho up to 12 miles for any wolf-control action to benefit caribou, but they never used it.”
Six of the South Selkirk caribou were captured last winter and radio-collared. While monitoring the animals, Canadian researchers learned that two caribou - 11 percent of the remaining herd - were killed by wolves in the past 10 months. The researchers later captured and fixed radio collars on wolves in two of the three packs in the Selkirk Caribou Recovery Zone to monitor their movements.
“The wolves were collared with the intent of a control action later this winter to eliminate those wolf packs in the caribou recovery area,” Wakkinen said.
Mountain lions also have killed caribou in the wider Purcell’s-Selkirk region, ministry reports say. “Two of the wolf packs are north of B.C. Highway 3, and one is south of the highway and often right on the border in the northern tier of Idaho,” Wakkinen said. Wolves regularly roam the Boundary Lake area of Idaho, he said.
Last week, radio-collared caribou were in Washington “within a slingshot distance of Canada and Idaho,” Wakkinen said. Washington has not given Canadian officials authority for wolf control, state Fish and Wildlife wolf policy director Dave Ware said.
Hunting and trapping of wolves in British Columbia have not effectively reduced populations and may even split up packs and increase predation rates on caribou, officials said. Habitat recovery continues to be an important part of caribou recovery, but it cannot address the critical needs of these herds in the short term, they said.