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SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: March 22, 2019

SNIP: This year, in the dead of winter, America’s wild reindeer went extinct in the contiguous United States.

After years of dwindling, the last remaining herd of caribou known to roam between Canada and the Pacific Northwest states of Idaho and Washington was down to just one known member. In January, wildlife managers in British Columbia captured the female and put her in a pen, where they hope she will have a better shot at survival than alone in the snowy wilderness.

For the foreseeable future, the capture put an end to the Selkirk herd in the wild, which was already what biologists consider “functionally extirpated.”

The Selkirk population was up to almost 50 in 2009, but since then it has been “going down, down, down,” said Leo DeGroot, a government wildlife biologist in British Columbia. An annual census found just three animals in 2018. “They have no future with one, two or three animals.”

Even before the recent capture, the Selkirk caribou seemed to have given up on the American portion of their range. No U.S. sightings had been confirmed since 2012.

The forest has been fragmented over decades by logging, roads, power lines and, in Canada, oil exploration and mining. Smaller foliage that grew back in its place attracted moose, deer and elk, and they, in turn, drew predators. The predators make their living off the plentiful newcomers, DeGroot said, but the caribou became “bycatch.”

“Without habitat protections, the chances of us seeing caribou in the Lower 48 again is pretty slim,” said Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.