The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:
(Juneau) — A population survey conducted earlier this summer places the Western Arctic caribou herd at 201,000 animals, indicating the herd’s recent rate of decline has eased greatly.
“The results of this photocensus imply that the population has continued to decline since 2013, albeit at a much reduced rate, which seems to be improving each year” said Caribou Biologist Lincoln Parrett.
The summer survey supports information gathered earlier by state biologists indicating improved Western Arctic caribou herd calf recruitment and survival. Biologists and hunters at Onion Portage in 2015 observed that caribou were in very good condition compared to prior years with average body condition of adult females characterized as “fat.” Also, calf weights averaged 100 pounds, which is about 11 pounds heavier than the 2008-2014 average and is the highest average calf weight recorded in the eight years the department began collecting calf weights at Onion Portage.
Overwinter calf survival for the 2015 cohort of calves was 82 percent and the spring 2016 recruitment survey, with 23 yearlings:100 adults observed, was the highest calf recruitment into the population recorded since 2007. High calf survival rates are being mirrored in the adult female survival rate, which is on track to be among the highest recorded in this herd. Biologists documented near record calf production in 2016.
The July photocensus results come as the Federal Subsistence Board deliberates on a Special Action request by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to reverse the board’s April decision to close caribou hunting on federal lands in Game Management Unit 23 to all but federally qualified subsistence users. The closure, which went into effect July 1, 2016, is scheduled to continue through June 30, 2017.
State and federal advisory committees will be meeting this fall prior to January’s Board of Game meeting. The Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group – a cooperative body that meets regularly to reach consensus on research, monitoring, regulation, allocation and enforcement and to support education about the herd—will meet in December to discuss successful ways to keep the herd healthy and thriving. This new information will be essential to discussions about future management of the herd and how the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Cooperative Management Plan will be implemented.
The Western Arctic caribou herd is Alaska’s largest caribou herd. The animals roam an area of about 157,000 square miles that includes many landowners and management entities. Caribou availability and abundance has largely shaped the heritage and traditions of Native Alaskans living in some 40 subsistence-based communities region-wide.