Porcupine Caribou Herd Growing: Alaskan Biologists

The Yukon government imposed Porcupine caribou hunting restrictions in 2009. Officials say they will review those restrictions in light of new population numbers. (CBC)Biologists in Alaska and Yukon are celebrating news that the Porcupine caribou herd seems to be growing, based on early figures from a recent population census.

Preliminary numbers from a photograph-based census, conducted in July, show well over 123,000 caribou in the Porcupine herd in Alaska. Biologists in that state say they haven’t even finished counting animals from that census yet.

While the official population estimate won’t be ready until March, Alaska Fish and Game biologist Beth Lenart said she expects the final count will be much higher.

“The Porcupine caribou herd is higher than our last census, and I think this is good news for Alaskans and Canadians,” Lenert told CBC News Thursday.

The last photo census of the Porcupine caribou herd, done about 10 years ago, pegged the herd at 123,000 animals.

With other caribou herds in decline across the North, wildlife managers in both Alaska and Yukon had feared the worst for the cross-border Porcupine herd. In 2009, the Yukon government imposed controversial hunting restrictions along the Dempster Highway, in an effort to protect herd numbers.

For the latest Porcupine caribou census, Lenart said biologists aboard an airplane photographed the herd over a two-day period in July, while the caribou were aggregating near the Alaskan north coast.

Earlier census attempts had failed because the caribou were spread throughout the Richardson Mountains, she added.

“It makes it really difficult to conduct a photo census when that was happening,” she said.

“We were pretty happy to be able to get one this year, when the conditions all came together and the caribou were cooperating.”

The Yukon government says news of the higher caribou numbers means officials can review the hunting restrictions along the Dempster Highway.

CBC News

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