What extinction in Idaho looks like: Last caribou captured, ending conservation program

JLS

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To clarify my earlier comments, I am not arguing logging should not have taken place. It is what it is. Large scale clear cutting was a standard at that point in time, and inarguably deer, elk, and moose hunters benefited as a result. Was this benefit enough to outweigh the loss of caribou? I don't know. I guess it depends on what perspective you are looking at it from. I highly doubt we can recreate an intact ecosystem that would support caribou, and even if we could, would it be worth the cost? I don't know the answer to that either.

What I do know is that it's highly disingenuous of sportsman to jump up and down and scream about the wolves and cougars, and how they eradicated a special species like the caribou, when the reality is the damage has been done for many years. Sportsman enjoyed the benefits from and cheered on the practices or clearcutting that ultimately led to the demise of the caribou. I'm not suggesting we live in 20/20 hindsight. I'm suggesting we be honest with ourselves about this.
 

Trial153

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There is a lesson to be learned here but I am not sure we will bring ourselves to learn it.
 

BuzzH

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While I'm not an expert on lichens, I have been involved with collecting them on a couple hundred sites across the interior west. I also have taken some extensive training on them as well.

Speaking in general terms, very subtle changes in climate, direct sunlight, and micro-climates/sites can really influence the diversity and abundance of lichens. Things like clearcutting, which is not subtle at all, completely eliminates species like byroria, which are a great food source for elk, deer, etc. That species, in particular, is very important to elk/deer/moose that find sanctuary from hunting in dense forest types (think lodgepole and other old growth areas). There really is limited feed in monoculture stands like lodgepole and bryoria can make up a good portion of an diets when they utilize that type of habitat.

Also speaking in general terms, the sites with the best lichen diversity and abundance are nearly always older aged stands, north slopes, and wetter sites like riparian and/or upper elevation where temperatures are cooler. Conversely, south slopes, drier sites, and exposed areas have very little lichen diversity.

Lichens are no question an indicator of over-all ecosystem health and that's why they're being monitored and studied, and why I collected them for on-going research. Lichens are sort of the "canary in the coal mine" with regard to changing climate, conditions, management practices, even air quality.

I would venture a guess that clear cutting could have a real impact on seasonal food sources for those caribou.
 

Sytes

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Brent,
This is my average Joe hunter take on this subject, in response to your query.

The various factors all play part. Each "part" has it's place. IMO, the fact of the matter, the foundation must be set and from there, each level some, "parts" increase while other "parts" decrease.

In the end, the population size is based on the habitat.
Human conservation efforts, increase predator controls (hunt, trap, gov't involved, etc) to allow Caribou to get footing.
As the Caribou population increases, the predator control focused quota reduces.
As the Caribou population increases, the feed (lichen, etc) and expansion of territory do as well and with that, the targeted predator focus is adjusted accordingly.

Then... Compound that with moose, elk, etc and one will be hard pressed to find R1, Yaak / Zone 1, Idaho Selkrik needs additional predators to "regulate" the over populated ungulate herds...

Pull one, release the other.

Same as elk in R1. Why effected areas are not permit based vs general... No freaking clue.

A study was conducted within a controlled environment for Caribou and lichen with the clear cut, thinned (partially cut) and heavy cover. This is a link to the Abstract:

 

375H&H

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Fires are also not subtle and remove old growth stands that grow lichen pretty efficiently and without abandon.

Just look at the history of the fires in the Wilderness areas up there or what happened to the Roosevelt grove of ancient cedars for a start.
 

375H&H

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Not to derail this thread but this moose was taken in what was once prime habitat for these caribou. It takes ages for things to grow back up there whether done by man or nature (notice the background).

102488
 

BuzzH

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Fires are also not subtle and remove old growth stands that grow lichen pretty efficiently and without abandon.

Just look at the history of the fires in the Wilderness areas up there or what happened to the Roosevelt grove of ancient cedars for a start.
Sure, no doubt about that...but to imply that fire and clearcuts mean the same thing isn't true either.
 

375H&H

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Sure, no doubt about that...but to imply that fire and clearcuts mean the same thing isn't true either.
In terms of old growth forests and lichen production I believe they mean the exact same thing. The trees are dead and not fostering lichen growth.
 

BuzzH

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In terms of old growth forests and lichen production I believe they mean the exact same thing. The trees are dead and not fostering lichen growth.
I respectfully disagree, they don't mean the same thing at all. Almost without exception, fires leave many of the most productive lichen sites untouched and unburned. A chainsaw runs the same on a south slope as a north slope...fire, not so much. Fires also tend to leave more biomass than complete tree removal via clearcutting, as well as mosaic fire patterns left behind in many fire areas.

For the record, lichens grow on dead trees, rocks, brush, etc. depending on the species. Pretty tough for a lichen to grow on a tree that is completely removed from the site via clearcutting and being peeled and cut into 2x4's at a mill. At least last time I checked.

I'm not going to go 15 rounds with you on this, but to claim clearcuts and fire mean the same thing is intellectually dishonest...best case.
 

375H&H

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Ok so all of this got me thinking and I called a close relative that works with the biologist who was at ground zero with these caribou in Washington, Idaho, and BC. He helped with building the calving pen in BC which ended up not working as planned.

Anyway, a few interesting thoughts came out of the discussion:

- High altitude old growth logging is almost certainly not to blame for the demise of these caribou. Logging actually increased the lichens that the caribou can eat as it brings more of them down onto the ground and from the upper part of the tree so they can actually get to it. A significant portion of the logging slash stays on the ground taking the lichens from the upper branches with it. Many of the logging roads near the caribou habitat have been gated for quite some time now.
- Wolves, while not totally to blame, were in some sense "the straw that broke the camels back" with these caribou. When the caribou population got so low and you have virtually no wolf control in Washington, the caribou are one of the species (along with elk and moose) that are in decline in this region. Predator control is a must if there is ever a hope for these caribou. However, public recreational predator control is difficult during the winter months and due to the remoteness of the region.
- The highway north of Bonners Ferry has taken a significant toll on these animals with numerous being killed over the years (including some great big bulls).
- High altitude snowmobiling is probably the largest contributor to the demise of this herd. While there is some good that snowmobiling does (create packed trails for big game to walk on instead of trudging through deep snow), there is more harm than good up at the high altitude sensitive areas in this region.

Just adding some thoughts to consider as this discussion carries on.
 

theat

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Hmm, I agree with most of what your buddy had to say except that the first part seems a little iffy to me. I could see how logging could bring lichen that is way up in a tree to ground level to eat for a year or two, but lichen seems to grow much better in shady, cool, and wet areas and logging units tend to be hot and dry. Additionally, for most species the winter and spring months are the time of year that life hangs in the balance, food sources are scarce and conditions are harsh. During that time of year at high elevation anything within several feet and up to 10's of feet from the ground will be under the snow and inaccessible to caribou. I remember reading awhile back about how biologists found sign of caribou feeding on lichen 20 feet up in some trees. During the winter 20 feet above ground level at that location was where the caribou were standing on the snow to get at the lichen.

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with responsible logging, but if done in the wrong ways and wrong places it can have negative effects on wildlife. Plus, a lot of people don't consider the many other long term side effects of logging activity. Punching a bunch of roads into an area, even when they are gated after logging operations are long done, provide much easier access for human activity. A place that used to see only a few hikers and hunters each year, may now get year round human use via, mountain bikes, atvs, motorcycles, backcountry skiers, and snowmobiles. Another thing I don't hear mentioned much is the spreading of noxious weeds by the users of these logging roads. I don't think I have every walked a gated logging road in western Montana and not seen knapweed. In my part of the state any road, clearcut, or south facing opening that is road accessible is covered in knapweed and often many other weed species. I feel that this has had a major impact particularly on winter range, but in the case of these caribou, any impact from weeds is most likey pretty insignificant due to their diet.

Here is an interesting article from awhile back about a collared caribou that FWP found near Eureka and treated for tick paralysis. Once again, I doubt that tick infestations are a major factor in this herds decline, but it seems like it could be another one of the many nails in their coffin. I know that ticks have been blamed for the decline in certain moose populations.


Anyhow, I can see why the biologists that were tasked with the recovery of this herd have pretty much given up all hope. I see no practical way for us to manage this herd back into existence. It would require an insane amount of money and major changes in how their range is used by humans both commercially and recreationally. Unfortunately, like many species that have evolved to survive in a specialized niche, once modern humans enter and change their environment they are as doomed as the dodo bird.
 
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