Endangered Species:

Caribou Recovery Program Has Achieved Modest Gains

RCED-99-102: Published: May 13, 1999. Publicly Released: May 13, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Caribou Recovery Program, focusing on the: (1) amount and source of funds expended on the woodland caribou recovery program; (2) results of the program, including the outcome of efforts to augment the population and the impact of the recovery efforts on land use; and (3) future direction of the recovery program.

GAO noted that: (1) the United States and British Columbia spent an estimated $4.7 million on efforts to restore the woodland caribou population from 1984 through 1998; (2) the Fish and Wildlife Service provided the majority of these funds, spending about $3.2 million; (3) these funds were used primarily for increasing the existing caribou population by transplanting other caribou to the southern Selkirk Mountains and conducting follow-up monitoring; (4) the Forest Service and British Columbia estimated that they spent about $781,000 and $31,000, respectively, on caribou recovery efforts; (5) the caribou recovery program has achieved modest gains; (6) however, despite these efforts, the overall size of the southern Selkirk population has increased by only about 18 animals, to a total of about 48; (7) the recovery program also has not achieved its goal of establishing two new self-sustaining herds, one in Idaho and another in Washington; (8) this limited population increase is due to high mortality among transplanted caribou and the deaths of some resident caribou; (9) although the cause of death is unknown for many caribou, researchers believe that predation, mainly by cougars, is the most common cause; (10) the recovery program has succeeded in mapping caribou habitat, developing caribou habitat management guidelines, completing research on various aspects of caribou ecology, developing information and education programs, providing law enforcement, and monitoring the caribou population; (11) the impact on land use due specifically to caribou recovery efforts has been relatively minor; (12) according to the Forest Service, some restrictions have been placed on timber harvesting and a small portion of the caribou habitat has been closed to snowmobiling; (13) officials involved in planning future caribou recovery efforts agreed that, for the immediate future, the program's highest priority is to maintain the core population of caribou centered around Stagleap Provincial Park; (14) the range of this population includes northeastern Washington and northern Idaho, as well as southeastern British Columbia; (15) however, the availability of caribou for further augmenting the population is uncertain; (16) another high-priority task will be to investigate the causes of and manage caribou mortality; (17) the cooperating agencies recently initiated a study of cougar populations and their predation on caribou in the southern Selkirks; and (18) an overriding concern of officials involved in planning future recovery efforts is whether there will be adequate funding for the program.

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