Last September, we ran a book excerpt from Alaskan subsistence hunter Seth Kantner, who we also interviewed. This is what Kantner said about the Western Arctic Herd from her Q&A:
CC The Western Arctic Caribou Herd has seen a large decrease in the last 20 years. How concerned are you going forward with that herd and caribou in Alaska as a whole?
SK I’m very concerned. In my opinion, every one of us should be. Caribou don’t simply just really matter and provide meat; they define us. That’s relatively easy to spot here, but I’d also hope people far away – in Chicago, or Berlin – or wherever, understand these animals define them, too. These last vast roaming herds stand as markers – or barometers maybe – of who we are as humans and how far we progress, or digress. Our ability to get along with each other, understand the importance of nature, look ahead, curb our boundless desires, use our heads judiciously in our power over the natural world – it’s all on the line with the caribou. Caribou are amazingly adapted to the tundra; they are tougher than we can imagine living the lives I describe in this book, but their future will no longer be decided solely by them and the wild.
Kantner wrote a guest column for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership about the bounty in the Last Frontier he and so many others rely on. Here’s a snippet:
Every few minutes, I step out to scan the river ice for caribou. I’d like one for meals and to dry. But it’s hard to predict the migration anymore; this land has changed so much. Migratory waterfowl are slow to show this spring, and there are fewer songbirds each year. The ice is still solid, 600 yards wide and stretching miles upriver and down. My nearest neighbors are in the village of Ambler, 25 miles east.
From this ridge, I can see across a quarter-million acres of rolling tundra, river valleys, and timber—north into the Brooks Range, south to the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, and beyond. I’ve hunted and trapped here all my life, on foot, and by kayak, dog team, and snowmobile. As a kid, we wore furs, slept on caribou hides, and ate some of nearly everything that moved—moose, bears, ducks, loons, muskrats, beavers, porcupines, otters, and all the rest.
A lot has changed rapidly in the intervening decades—the weather, vegetation, ice, and especially the movement of animals. I like to think I know this land like family, but each year it is harder to recognize.
You can find Kantner’s most recent book and his other titles to purchase here.