For centuries, mountain caribou have inhabited the unique inland rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. And they were once so abundant, they were considered an "insurance food" for indigenous tribes in the area that spans the northeastern corner of Washington state, as well as parts of Idaho and British Columbia.
“There were so many caribou here, the elders said they were like bugs on the landscape,” Chief Roland Wilson of the West Moberly First Nations told David Moskowitz, Winthrop-based biologist and photographer.
Now, mountain caribou are on the brink of extinction, rarely seen by human eyes.
Moskowitz spent three years documenting the plight of the tiny herds that remained in parts of Washington and Idaho until just last month, when Wildlife officials captured them to consolidate the population in Canada. There are vague plans for a captive breeding program.
Moskowitz says the plight of the caribou is so intertwined with the temperate inland rainforest they inhabit that he calls them “the ambassador(s) for this unique ecosystem.”
And right now, he says, their conservation status as a protected species in the U.S. and Canada is a big part of what is protecting major areas of old-growth forests in both countries.
KNKX environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp sat down with him to hear about what he calls “a magically wild place — at a crossroads.”
You can hear the radio version of this story above. And we are providing the entire conversation recorded at KNKX, for those who want to learn more, click below.