(Juneau) –Counts have not been completed, but Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) biologists say that the Porcupine Caribou herd numbers are significantly greater than 123,000 animals, the number estimated in 2001.
The herd ranges in the northeastern part of Alaska and into Yukon, Canada, and is an important resource for residents of both areas. Alaska and Canada cooperatively manage the herd.
An ADF&G photocensus of the Porcupine Caribou herd was conducted in July 2010, and the photographed caribou are now being counted. “We’ve counted more than 123,000 caribou so far, and we haven’t finished,” said Beth Lenart, ADF&G Area Biologist. “This is good news for people who value this herd.”
Five photocensuses that occurred from 1989 to 2001 indicated a decline in the herd from 178,000 to 123,000 animals. Alaskan and Canadian biologists thought it was possible that the herd may have continued to decline since 2001. However, concerns of a declining herd have faded as counting of the 2010 photos progressed.
Alaskan biologists do not expect to finalize the herd estimate until early March. Canadian managers will be meeting in early February to establish hunting regulations in Yukon. ADF&G biologists will decide whether to recommend changes to Alaska’s hunting regulations before the next meeting of the Board of Game that will consider Porcupine Caribou in March, 2012.
Lenart said the quality of the photocensus is very good. “The photos are of high quality, caribou were well aggregated, and we located all of the radio collars,” said Lenart. “Conditions were excellent for a photocensus. Numbers are higher than we expected to find, and we’re confident the herd has grown since 2001.”
Official estimates of Porcupine Herd size will be released after counting and verification are completed.