Lichen Collection for Southern Mountain Central Selkirk Caribou

For a handy field guide, download and print our lichen collection handbook. Created initially for the Revelstoke Rearing in the Wild Caribou Maternity Pen and adjusted for specific operations with the Arrow Lakes Caribou Society Central Selkirk Caribou Maternity Pen project.

ALCS Lichen Collection Handbook

Other Helpful Materials:

Maternity Pen Project

The Maternity Pen Project, directed by the Arrow Lakes Caribou Society, is one of the management actions of ALCS, that can assist in the recovery of Southern Mountain Central Selkirk Caribou.

The maternity pen, located in the Kuskanax Creek area, near Nakusp Hot Springs, will be a safe environment for female caribou to bare and raise their calves, away from predators. Capture for the project will occur in the winter, and the caribou will then be released with their calves in July, when the calves are three to five weeks old.

Pen Construction

Dietary Habits of Mountain Caribou

Mountain caribou are an ecotype of woodland caribou. Mountain caribou exclusively feed on arboreal lichens during late winter when deep snow packs in the alpine facilitate easy access. Newly captured females cannot immediately be fed commercial caribou feed when they are introduced to the maternity pen, but rather must be transitioned from their natural diet of arboreal (tree) lichens at a rate of 10% change/day until they are eating 100% commercial feed (John Cook, pers. comm.). The preferred arboreal lichen species for mountain caribou are Bryoria spp. (Photo 1) and Alectoria sarmentosa (Photo 2) (Kinley et al 2006).

Bryoria spp.

Alectoria sarmentosa

Within the Columbia Mountains Ecosystem (CME), Bryoria primarily grows at higher elevations near treeline in old subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) and Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) forests (Kinley et al 2006), also referred to as the ESSF (Engelmann spruce/subalpine fir) biogeoclimatic zone. Alectoria is typically found at lower elevations within the Interior Cedar/Hemlock (ICH) biogeoclimatic zone, however both species often grow together with dominance dictated by elevation. Bryoria is generally a dark brown in colour versus Alectoria which is typically a light green colour.

Mountain caribou are known to prefer Bryoria over Alectoria although they readily consume both species. When possible, Bryoria is the primary species to be targeted for lichen collection for the ALCS project.

Lichen Collection Volunteers

ALCS needs volunteers to help collect lichen for each year the pen is in operation. Penned caribou will need approximately 115 kg of lichen each year, so we will need your help to collect!

ALCS will work with forest licensees in the Nakusp area to determine where and when they will be harvesting such that collection field trips can be arranged when possible. ALCS will organize group picks for volunteers. However, the public are welcome to collect on their own as well. If you are interested in collecting lichen for mountain caribou, contact ALCS to learn where, and how to pick lichen.

Those interested in group or individual lichen collection can send an email message to: Arrow Lakes Caribou Society for assistance in locating and dropping off lichen. The ALCS will track names and hours of volunteer lichen collectors for project funding information.

For Kootenay Lake area volunteers, Friends of the Lardeau River will be organizing picking groups.

Friends of the Lardeau River is a non-profit society focused on environmental protection of the Lardeau River and the fish and the wildlife and ecological values supported by this river, the valley and the broader local ecosystems. Programs we run include providing mountain goats with alternate salt sources to reduce mortality along Highway 31, providing educational outreach about locally-relevant ecological values via our Speaker Series program, and monitoring water quality in the Lardeau River and its Tributaries. We are excited to collaborate with Arrow Lakes Caribou Society in collecting lichen for our local caribou herds and to promote education and outreach to youth about this unique species. 

FLR members are happy to facilitate transport of lichen collected by those living in the Kootenay Lake Area to the Nakusp area, where penning will occur. You can contact FLR at

Handling Methods

Collection & Handling Methods & Guidelines
• It is preferred that harvesters use latex or nitrile gloves to reduce the possibility of the transfer of scent and potentially disease or other contaminants to the lichen;
• Lichen can be picked directly from lower tree branches or from fallen trees with ease;
• Higher branches can be pruned using a pole saw and the lichen subsequently removed from the branches;
• Natural blowdown or recently felled trees provide substantial quantities in one location;
• Large branches should be removed from the lichen. Small quantities of twigs are not considered to be a problem but high concentrations of twigs are not palatable;
• Excess water and/or snow should be shaken off as much as possible;
• Lichen can be placed directly into Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) garbage bags but should not remain there for extended periods. Lichen should be removed from garbage bags as soon as possible (i.e. within 24 hrs) in order to inhibit the conditions that foster the growth of mold and fungus.

Drying Methods

Lichen needs to be air dried in order to reduce the likelihood of mold and fungus growth as well as to facilitate weighing in a consistent manner. ALCS can dry lichen for collection volunteers, if they are unable to do it themselves. Please note, any lichen which has not already been dried will need to be given to ALCS within 24 hours of picking.

The ALCS is also storing lichen in Nakusp. General procedures to follow are:
• Remove lichen from the collecting bags within 24 hours of picking, sooner if temperatures are warm (e.g. >10 C);
• Evenly spread the lichen in a layer onto wooden pallets, not exceeding approximately 15 cm depth. The pallets permit air movement underneath the lichen to facilitate drying. If weather permits, the lichen can be dried outside on a deck or anywhere else with good air flow and dry conditions;
• Allow the lichen to air dry for a minimum of 48 hours at approx. 20 C or until the lichen feels very light in weight and is evenly dried. Turn the lichen over if the bottom is still damp. Fans can be used to expedite drying, especially if the lichen is very wet;
• Remove any large contaminants such as sticks or concentrations of small twigs, etc;
• Transfer the dried lichen into mesh soccer ball bags (or equivalent). The mesh bags allow for good air flow which is critical to lichen survival and the prevention of mold and fungus growth;
• Weigh the bags of lichen. Tag the bags and label them with the weight (kg), as well as the
harvest location and date. Full soccer ball bags of lichen weigh approximately 3-4 kg each;
• Hang the dried, labelled bags of lichen outdoors under cover in an area with good air ventilation, ensuring that there is air flow between the bags (Photo 3);
• Keep an inventory of the quantities and species of lichen in storage.

Drying Lichen


Kinley T.A., T. Goward, B. McLellan, and R. Serrouya. 2006. The Influence of Variable Snowpacks on Habitat Use by Mountain Caribou. The Eleventh Mountain Caribou Workshop, Jasper, AB.