April 5-11, 2022 is National Wildlife Week! From bears to butterflies, lynx to lizards, and elk to eagles – wildlife lovers in Idaho have a lot to celebrate. There’s an array of species across the Gem State to appreciate, but there are also many threats to their existence. Here are 5 wildlife species in Idaho that need your help to ensure they have a future in the Gem State. 


1. Wolverine 

The wolverine is one of the rarest mammals in North America. This elusive animal is secretive and difficult to observe, although lucky winter recreationists may come across its tracks. Although they may look related to a bear, they are actually the largest (and arguably, toughest) member of the weasel family. The wolverine is a solitary animal that needs room to roam – home ranges for male wolverines can cover over 500 square miles. They also need a deep and persistent snowpack so that they can take shelter in dens under the snow to rear their kits. Wolverines’ thick, dense coat helps them survive harsh mountain conditions. 

Wolverine. Photo by Ed Cannady

Idaho’s large mountainous regions provide the conditions wolverines need to thrive – but this habitat is threatened. Climate change is resulting in habitat loss, and the expansion of winter recreation can affect their access to the landscape and potentially disrupt breeding efforts. Areas where deep snowpack persists into May of each year is especially critical to protect their dens. These factors are making it difficult for the wolverine to survive – fewer than 300 wolverines are left in the lower 48. Stronger protections are needed to ensure their survival.

That’s why ICL and a coalition of other conservation groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add wolverine to the Endangered Species List. There has been a series of court cases related to the petition. As this battle continues and the future for wolverine remains cloudy, one thing is clear: ICL will continue to track this issue, remain engaged, and seek the protections that wolverines need to survive.

2. Greater sage-grouse

Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation
Greater Sage-Grouse. Photo by Bureau of Land Management

This amazing bird is an icon in the American West, and a signature species of Idaho’s sagebrush steppe. Females have a black belly and sport brown and white speckles on their bodies, allowing them to disappear into the vegetation with incredible ease. Males have black heads and throats, white breasts, speckled backs, and long spiky tail feathers they can fan out like a peacock. The males are famous for putting on a show every spring when they gather on open dancing grounds called “leks” for their mating ritual dance. The males strut their stuff, flaring two bright yellow air sacs located on their chest during their courtship dance, filling them with air and pushing them out to make a bizarre popping sound. Meanwhile, females wander around the lek, seemingly bored with all the males but keeping an eye out for their chosen mate. Sage-grouse hens usually nest within a few miles of the lek and may return to the same lek and nest site year after year. But this iconic dance – and iconic species – is in trouble.

Greater sage-grouse sorting out their turf.

Over the last several decades, the sage-grouse has lost large amounts of habitat to invasive annual grasses, wildfires, human development as well as from historic, improperly managed grazing and range management. Sage-grouse habitat has shrunk to 40% of its native range, and the population is thought to be less than 5% of historic numbers, with numbers declining annually.

ICL has a long history of working on sage-grouse conservation. The current management strategies for sage-grouse are not working, which is why we are encouraging the State of Idaho, BLM, and USFWS to do more to protect and restore sage-grouse habitat.

3. Grizzly bear

While many Idahoans (and ICL staff) venture out in hopes of seeing sage-grouse dance, most people try to avoid close encounters with grizzly bears. Grizzly bears historically lived in every part of Idaho, but are now primarily found in northern Idaho and in eastern Idaho near Yellowstone National Park, however documented sightings in North-Central Idaho are occurring. Their preferred habitat is forest with meadows and grasslands intermixed. They are omnivores and use their heightened senses to find food. According to Idaho Fish and Game, a grizzly bear’s nose is about 1,000 times more sensitive than human noses. Grizzlies can vary in color from blond to black, and have a large muscular hump between their shoulders. They usually weigh between 200 to 600 pounds and are about six to seven feet tall when standing upright.

Grizzly Bear
Grizzly bear

Grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 were added to the endangered species list in 1975, and the most recent Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan was approved in 1993. There are portions of four grizzly bear recovery areas in Idaho: the Yellowstone, Selkirk, Cabinet-Yaak, and Bitterroot Recovery Areas. Each has a minimum population that must be met before delisting of the grizzly can occur. Only the grizzly population in the Yellowstone area have met the delisting criteria and populations remain  well below the minimum population goals  in the other three areas. 

In the Selkirk Recovery Zone, the current population estimate is 40 bears, less than half the goal of 90 bears. Similarly, there are only about 50 grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak Recovery Area in northern Idaho and northwest Montana, with a population goal of at least 100 bears. In the Bitterroot Recovery Area, there have been at least three confirmed sightings since 2007 – still well behind the area’s population goal of 280 grizzlies. The Yellowstone Recovery area is the only one to reach the population goal, with a current estimate of more than 700 bears.

Grizzly bear

Although grizzly populations are well below the target goals required in the majority of Idaho’s recovery areas, the State of Idaho recently petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove grizzlies from the endangered species list. From ICL’s perspective, before delisting is even considered: Population goals for each area must be met, interconnectivity of population areas must be reestablished, and the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming must demonstrate that they can responsibly manage grizzly bears after delisting. A key component to successfully recovering and co-existing with grizzly bears is helping communities be bear aware.

4. Mountain Caribou

Caribou are part of the deer family, with large hooves useful for life in mountainous regions. Mountain or Woodland caribou historically inhabited most of North Idaho, extending as far south as Payette Lake, but over time became relegated to small isolated herds. Mountain caribou are threatened by human development and recreation expansion which have disrupted and destroyed habitat for the species, and can lead to increased predation. 


In 2019, the last of the caribou in the Selkirk Mountains were rounded up and taken to a captive breeding facility in British Columbia. This roundup triggered the Idaho State Snowmobile Association (ISSA) to file a motion to remove a court-ordered closure, which would have allowed expanded snowmobile use in mountain caribou habitat on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. ISSA argued that the closure should be lifted because there are no longer any caribou left in the Selkirk Mountains. ICL and the Forest Service opposed the motion, along with other organizations. Fortunately, the judge ruled that the closure could not be lifted until the Forest Service approves a winter recreation management plan that balances recreational use with the needs of caribou and other wildlife. While we hope that caribou will one day return to North Idaho, there is still a need to protect this habitat for wildlife that call it home. 

5. Wild Steelhead

Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead have gotten a lot more attention over recent years – as they inch closer to extinction, pressure is mounting to remove four dams on the Lower Snake River to save these iconic fish. 

Steelhead are one of the principal species of anadromous (sea-run) fish in Idaho. Steelhead are actually ocean-going rainbow trout. Born in the icy cold headwaters of Idaho’s rivers and streams, these iconic fish migrate to the ocean and then return to their native waters where they spawn and die – and the cycle begins anew. But these fish have a new normal: dams and development have landed them on the endangered species list.

A pair of steelhead. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The impact of dams on the lower Snake River has shut steelhead out of the rich habitat that remains in Idaho. Although herculean efforts, regulation from federal and state governments, and billions of dollars of taxpayer investments have kept these iconic fish from going extinct so far, salmon and steelhead populations are collapsing and have declined substantially since these dams were completed. Today, only two percent of historical populations of Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead remain.

ICL is working to restore ecologically significant, harvestable populations of wild salmon and steelhead to Idaho. These fish are our history, our culture, and an Idaho icon. They are also a foundation of Idaho’s ecosystems and key to many rural economies. Breaching the lower Snake River dams is the only way to save them from extinction and bring them back to abundance. 

ICL will continue to be engaged in efforts to recover and sustain Idaho’s endangered species and other wildlife. Stay updated on our work and learn about opportunities to engage by signing up for our Wildlife email updates!