Nushagak Caribou Hunt Hindered by Low Snow

Mar 3, 2015

With just one caribou reported so far, the winter's harvest will likely fall short of the season's 250-animal quota.

Nushagak Peninsula herd in summer.
Credit Courtesy of Fish & Wildlife

With a month left in the season, the Nushagak Peninsula caribou herd will likely go mostly un-hunted this winter. Listen to the story here: 

The winter caribou hunt on the Nushagak Peninsula began on December 1st. Togiak Refuge wildlife biologist Andy Aderman said hunters have reported just one caribou from the season. People traditionally access the peninsula by snow machine, he said.

“There was a good opportunity about two weeks ago… but shortly after that it warmed up and rained and I don’t think many people have gone since.”

Aderman said this winter’s harvest falls far short of the quota for Togiak Refuge.

“We really would like to harvest an additional 250 caribou down there... That doesn’t look likely.”

Since caribou hunting first opened on the Nushagak Peninsula in 1995, the population has fluctuated between a high of 1400 caribou and a low of 450. The herd has steadily grown since 2008, and now stands around 1000 animals. Aderman says the optimal number for the Nushagak herd, from a management standpoint, would be 750 caribou.

An overabundance of caribou can affect plant species they eat, including lichens, sedges, and willows, Aderman said. Brown bears and wolves benefit from a large caribou population, as well as coyotes, foxes, and eagles that scavenge kills made by bigger predators.

Though the current population is higher than ideal, Aderman says that he doesn’t anticipate any significant impacts to the ecosystem.

“Anywhere you go in Alaska that has caribou, they’ve gone through these periods of absence or near-absence to periods of great abundance.”

Aderman is still hopeful for March weather conditions that would allow hunters to reach the herd.

“Last season it snowed mid-March, enough that people were able to get down there. And in a little over two weeks, hunters harvested a little over 100 caribou. So there’s still hope that something like that could happen.”

The Nushagak Peninsula caribou hunt will continue until March 31. Federal subsistence permits for hunting caribou may be obtained at traditional council offices in Togiak, Twin Hills, Manokotak, Dillingham, Aleknagik, and Clark’s Point.

Contact Hannah Colton at hannah@kdlg.org.