Canadian biologists removed the animal as part of a controversial conservation strategy to preserve the herd.
In an effort to bolster endangered caribou herds, a team of biologists in British Columbia is capturing and moving the wild animals to a captive breeding pen near Revelstoke. As part of that effort, the team captured and relocated the last known caribou to cross into the contiguous United States.
The female caribou was traversing the Selkirk Mountains on the Canada side of the border when it was captured.
According to Science Magazine, the team says it plans to release the animal into a healthier Canadian herd, sparking controversy among Americans.
Bart George, a wildlife biologist from the indigenous Kalispel tribe in Usk, Washington, told the magazine losing the caribou was like "losing a piece of the tribe in some way."
Mountain caribou inhabit most of northwestern North America, with the southernmost part of that range being the inland temperate rainforests--the northwestern region of the contiguous U.S. Attempts to reverse caribou population trends in this region have failed.
It's hard to say whether or not caribou have a future in the Lower 48, but American conservationists have other fears. Many believe the extirpation of caribou in the contiguous U.S. could lead to the repeal of protections for caribou and caribou habitat. Many of the areas in British Columbia that've seen population declines are affected by logging operations, so lifted protections in southern British Columbia could certainly affect the U.S.
While provincial officials claim to have no plans of removing protections, many American conservationists recall past instances in which they have.
"The protections on core habitat are an umbrella, huge umbrella, that protect so many other species," said wildlife biologist Aaron Reid of British Columbia's forests ministry.