Restrictions on caribou hunting in Alaska will take place this summer in attempts to restrengthen two Arctic caribou herds.
Restrictions have been placed on caribou hunting in Alaska for the first time in 30 years due to two herd counts steadily declining. Restrictions and bag limits will take place starting July 1. Many rural villages rely on caribou for sustenance throughout the year and are worried how it will effect them next winter.
Yet, rural villages and communities are cooperating in trying to find solutions to declining caribou numbers. Jim Dau has been studying two specific herds, the Western Arctic and Teshekpuk herds, for more than 25 years.
He had this to say about the Alaskan communities; “It’s really amazing given the importance of caribou to subsistence users, and I would have to say working with the villages and the advisory committees on this is one of the highlights of my career.”
The Western Arctic herd is Alaska’s largest caribou herd and has been steadily decreasing from 490,000 in 2003 to a contemporary low of 235,000 in 2013. Biologists attribute climate change as one of the reason for decline as well as the higher numbers of predators.
The Teshekpuk herd is also declining with only 25,000 projected for 2015 from 55,000 caribou in 2011. The state of this particular herd is relying on calf survival.
Lincoln Parrett, a Fairbanks-based wildlife biologist who tracks the Teshekpuk herd, said that nutritional stress is affecting this smaller herd, along with weather, and predation.
Between predators and overharvesting the caribou, herd numbers need to have a year to recover. No one is particularly opposed to these regulations but some regional hunters believe that they should have a year-round season. If they need a caribou for sustenance they should be able to harvest one. Many proposed the idea of “take what you need,” but that is a slippery slope.
The good news is that Alaskan hunters and rural communities are all cooperating and communicating and that is key to finding a solution to the caribou decline.