Sunday, March 27, 2011
(Kotzebue) ADF&G conducted a photocensus of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd (WACH) in July 2009 and came up with a preliminary finding of 401,000 caribou, an increase of roughly 6% over the estimated 377,000 animals estimated in the 2007 census. Further analysis, however, determined that the numbers are actually lower than the first estimate by 53,000 head, with the count coming in at 348,000 caribou. This represents an actual drop in the WACH population of nearly 8% between 2007 and 2009. The herd has been in steady decline at the rate of 4-6% annually since it peaked at 490,000 animals in 2003, however Jim Dau, the ADF&G area biologist suggests that these numbers indicate that the herd is relatively stable, and that the decline is well within acceptable parameters, and certainly preferable to continued growth and the possibility of an abrupt decline. Dau asserts that the reduced numbers are not a result of hunting pressure.
Nonlocal hunters pursuing WACH animals have seen decreased opportunities in recent years as a result of lower bag limits and limited air charter availability due to regulatory reductions on the number of hunters each charter can haul to the field.