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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Western Arctic Caribou Herd has been falling at 5 % per year from a high of 490,000 in 2003 to an estimated 235,000 in 2013..............Biologists predict an even steeper 15% annual decline over the next few year for the herd which will take it to the point where the State of Alaska will begin to implement predator control(wolf killing) programs as well as hunting cutbacks for non residents............Every reason including predation, severe weather, climate change and hunting is cited as contributing factors in the decline of the Caribou..............One never hears anything about human land alteration as a factor or even if the shrinkage of the herd is a good thing for land regeneration................Food for thought these factors are and they must be elevated in the management discussion if we are to have a mosaic of predator and prey in Alaska that is sustainable

With caribou population declining, hunting restrictions on the horizon

December 26th 4:37 pm | By Jillian RogersPrint this article   Email this article   Create a Shortlink for this article

The harvestable surplus of caribou in the Western Arctic Herd is nearing a critical point. And now stakeholders across the Arctic are in the process of figuring out what to do about it.
The caribou are an important resource for subsistence hunters and their families throughout the northern regions and around the state, and they also provide a source of income for guides and outfit owners who bring hunters up from the Lower 48 to get their fill. But something's got toThe harvestable surplus is the number of caribou that hunters can take without compromising the long-term sustainability of the herd. This year, that surplus is estimated to be about 13,000 caribou.

 If that number falls below 12,000, according to the state's Board of Game, hunting restrictions for nonresident hunters, and predator control methods will be implemented. The Board of Game has approved, based on data from the state's subsistence division, 8,000 to 12,000 caribou for subsistence users. If the harvestable surplus goes below 8,000, narrower restrictions will be put into place."Our actual harvest may exceed the harvestable surplus this year (for) the first time," said Kotzebue-based biologist Jim Dau, who works for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Stakeholders from Western Alaska, the Arctic and Interior regions of the state gathered last week for the annual Western Arctic Caribou Herd working group meeting to discuss proposals on how to curb the decline.
The group will then present the recommendations to the Board of Game next year. Presentations by biologists, students, Elders and others with a vested interest in the herd spoke to the eager audience last week in Anchorage.
Projections for the herd, which has been in a steady decline for about a decade, show that numbers will most likely keep going down. At last official count in 2013, the herd was at 235,000. It peaked in 2003 at 490,000. From 2003 to 2011, the herd population dropped between 4 to 6 percent a year.

The declination rate in more recent years has been higher and the herd is estimated to drop around 15 percent each year for the next few. The next census is slated for 2015.
"Based on the data right now, it's going to get worse before it gets better," said Dau. "Everybody wants to know 'why are the numbers going down?' and basically, the short answer is, we've got more adults dying than we have cows surviving."
Weather, climate change, predation and hunting are all potential contributing factors to the plummet, but scientists still don't have an exact cause. Calf production is not going down, though the calf survival rate is, Dau told the working group.
"There's nowhere for the herd to go but down as long as cow mortality is exceeding calf survival," Dau said.
The last few winters have seen low snow where the caribou roam, which has been good for mortality rates, but a few bad years with heavy icing or lots of snow can do much more damage than a few easy years can do good, Dau said. He added that while he doesn't have hard data to back it up, he thinks that the change in weather started the initial decline. And while the herd size is waning, the number of predators has gone up.
The caribou herd in general is comprised of fat, healthy animals with no signs of chronic disease or parasites.
Population, collared caribou, harvest rates and development are being monitored throughout the year by several different state and federal agencies including ADF&G, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Parks Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Because the herd is now below 265,000, it is considered at the low end of the "conservative" management and harvest levels and hunters are being asked to voluntarily reduce the number of cows taken.
"We've been in liberal management for a long, long time," said Dau, adding the move into conservative management is recent.
Currently, the management plan suggests the ideal bull to cow ratio is 40 bulls per 100 cows or above. The population is now right around 40:100, Dau said.
That ratio is an important number when considering the harvestable surplus, he added. If the ratio drops below 40:100, the bull harvested would potentially be restricted.
"If this trend continues ... we could be taking 30 or 40 percent of our bulls out of this herd every year in a very short amount of time, and that's not sustainable," Dau said.
The working group proposed limiting the season on cows, restricting the taking of calves, restricting non-resident bull harvest and nixing the nonresident cow harvest as ways to curb the crash.

Over the last 15 years, harvest rates have remained consistent, with no increase in the number of hunters. Around 95 percent of caribou harvested each year are taken by subsistence users. (Subsistence users are defined in this case as anyone who lives within the range of the herd.)
"One thing I've heard in the all the villages is that we need to close (the hunt) to sport hunters, if we do that we cut off 5 percent of the harvest and that's very little," Dau said.
Hunter conflict between residents and nonresidents is highest in Unit 23 — an area in the Northwest Arctic — where most of the caribou are taken.
Near Noatak, hunters from Outside are flown in and set up camp on the Noatak River in spots that divert the herd away from town and away from local subsistence users, said Noatak's Enoch Mitchell.
"They couldn't pass because there were hunters on the other side of the river," Mitchell said. "It's affecting the village quite a bit. They could hunt above where we hunt and then the caribou would pass by us, too."
He added that the herd is coming later each year and crossing farther north, forcing local hunters to travel longer distances.
"We have to do something now before they get depleted."
A lot of people in Noatak have freezers void of caribou right now, Mitchell said, adding that he went around to each household to ask how much caribou they had and most said none.
"We've been waiting for the snow to come so we can go out and hunt," he said.
Mitchell is still hopeful that community members will get what they need this year.
Up on the North Slope, the concerns around potential hunting restrictions while maintaining a healthy population are prompting more conversations across the region, said Quiyaan Harcharek, who was at the meeting on behalf of the North Slope Borough.
"Caribou is one of the main food sources, especially in the smaller communities," he said. "The way we hunt, we only take what we need. Nonresident hunters don't make up a large percentage but cutting the nonresident hunt before the resident hunt will show good faith to the communities that the state and feds are taking avenues necessary before imposing (restrictions) on our communities."
The working group will take its recommendation for regulation changes to the state Board of Game at its meeting in March.

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