The Kalispel Tribe owns and operates more than a dozen businesses and enterprises in and around the Pend Oreille area.

We believe in building a strong community and our economic development opportunites emphasize our commitment to the land and people.

Mountain caribou (Rangifer tarandus) occupied the Selkirk Mountains for as long as seventy-five thousand years, it’s only been half a decade since the last of the Southern Selkirk Mountain herd was captured and transported to the Revelstoke herd, located in another mountain range further north in British Columbia (BC), and beyond the traditional homeland of the Kalispel Tribe of Indians.

The Tribe worked hard to recover caribou in the US portion of their range, and for a while it appeared that the efforts were paying off.  The caribou population increased from around 20 animals in the late 1990’s, to 46 animals in 2011.  However, by the following year the population had dropped to 27. From there it slowly waned until the last three caribou, all cows, were captured and moved north to offer hope and fresh genetic material to another struggling population.

From the moment caribou were extirpated from the Selkirk Mountains, the Tribe’s natural resource department (KNRD) started exploring ways to get them back.  Recovery options were limited and the bureaucratic red tape, complete with an international border, was and continues to be difficult to navigate, but the Tribe has found a path forward for caribou recovery and eventual repopulation of its traditional hunting grounds.

Almost simultaneously with the moment the South Selkirk herd disappeared, the Arrow Lakes Caribou Society (ALCS) in Nakusp, BC began discussions around a maternity pen in the Central Selkirk Mountains, they reached out to KNRD requesting help in the planning and designing of the pen, as well as looking for international partners keen to provide support from the US.  KNRD was able to send staff across the border to Nakusp to help ALCS find the perfect location and begin planning the project.

In the five years since that initial meeting, the Tribe and ALCS have built a strong relationship that has been critical to the project finally coming to fruition in 2021.  ALCS was able to create a coalition of support from the region and is now approaching its third year of penning operations.  The Tribe has been working hard on the southern side of the international border by gathering funds, garnering support, and maintaining protection for the critical caribou habitat in the Selkirk mountains.

In 2023, KNRD applied for $57,000 from the Kalispel Charitable Fund, that request was granted and immediately used as match funding to apply for an additional $57,000, which also came to fruition.  Several Kalispel Tribal employees have become annual fixtures at the ALCS maternity pen, volunteering as caribou “shepherds” and helping feed and care for the caribou and patrolling the facility for signs of predators or damage to the exclosure, which is perched above a tranquil hot springs resort on a mountainside.

The pen is accessible by forestry roads that are closed to public access for a large portion of the early Spring and Summer to minimize human interference with the project. The exclosure covers just over 16 acres of the inland temperate rainforest, filled with hemlock and cedar trees, and includes a small creek that meanders throughout as a fresh source of water for the caribou. Daily shepherd duties include feeding and cleaning around the troughs, checking the perimeter for any breaches, and visual observation and data collection from the blind affectionately referred to as the bou shack.

Volunteering at the pen is an incredible and unique experience and the opportunity to observe the caribou on a daily basis is awe-inspiring. Volunteers are able to identify trends in each animal’s social behavior and become emotionally invested as their time with the caribou progresses. Those who have been fortunate enough to return year after year have favorites amongst the herd and get excited to see them back each year. As the project has continued, the group has increased in size with the addition of new calves and returning yearlings each season.

In 2022, the first year the maternity pen was operable, six calves and their mothers were successfully released to the wild. In 2023, the project collected 14 caribou: 10 females and four yearlings. Eight of the 10 females were pregnant, and seven calves were released back into the Central Selkirks.  When compared to calf survival for the herd over the last decade, this is more than a 300% increase and an amazing conservation success.

Thanks to support from the Tribe and other partners and volunteers, ALCS is once again preparing to capture pregnant caribou and place them into the maternity pen in March 2024.  Spending time at the maternity pen is an incredible experience and serves as a reminder of the beauty of our natural world and the need to conserve and protect it for future generations.  For more information about the Arrow Lakes Caribou Society, or for information about opportunities to volunteer or help, please visit: