Movements of Mount McKinley National Park Caribou
BRIEF SURVEY OF MOVEMENTS FROM 1925 TO 1941
Detailed information on the movements of the Mount McKinley National Park caribou herds is lacking, but there is enough information in the Park Superintendents' monthly reports to give an approximate idea of the annual movements. There are, of course, many gaps in our knowledge since much of the territory used by caribou is not easily accessible and is infrequently visited by man. I have reviewed the monthly reports of the Superintendents and summarized the information contained therein. An understanding of the movements of the caribou is important from the standpoint of the park visitors because so often they are disappointed at failing to see the animals, which at the time of their visit may have moved beyond the region accessible by road. For the benefit of future workers in this area, and to place on record facts that may prove of value in further studies of caribou wanderings, the data are given here in some detail.
1926.In the winter of 192526, 2,000 or more caribou wintered in the region around Toklat River and McKinley Fork, but there were few in the eastern section, including the area between Teklanika River and Park Headquarters. Apparently they had been wintering to some extent along the north boundary. Many at this time had been wintering in the Broad Pass region along the railroad, but there is no mention of any migration to this area. In 1922 and 1923 O. J. Murie and I observed an eastern migration in the fall between Savage River and Park Headquarters.
In July 1926, six or seven thousand caribou were found in the Toklat River region, and hundreds were found at the head of Savage River. In August they were reported to have gone westward.
In October 1926, there was a general migration from the western part of the park, over Sanctuary Pass to Windy and points east in the Broad Pass area. But there was also a large herd in the general area west of Stony Creek and a few stragglers wintered at Savage. Apparently the main herd had split in two, some wintering east of the park and some in the western part. There is no report of the return of the caribou from the Broad Pass region. They probably dribbled westward inconspicuously.
1927.In July 1927, several thousand were reported in the East Fork and Toklat River sections. In October 1927, six or seven thousand caribou again moved out of the park through the Windy region to Broad Pass. This migration was not noticed on the north side of the main range but it was thought that these caribou did come from the north side. In December 1927, 1,500 were reported in the Kantishna region and there were other signs of large herds moving east along the northern boundary. Large numbers seen on both sides of the Tanana River were thought to have come from the park herd.
1928.In February 1928, a herd of 1,000 caribou entered the park near Cantwell, moving west, and in March other herds followed. They were seen over much of the park in March. In June large herds were reported in the Clearwater Creek region south of McKinley Fork. The report stated that tourists were obliged to travel beyond Copper Mountain if they wished to see the large herds in summer. In August bands near Wonder Lake were starting eastward, and in September several small herds were seen in the eastern section of the park. In October several thousand caribou traveled eastward across the Teklanika River and over to Windy and into the Broad Pass area. About 1,000 were reported wintering near Windy. It was reported that most of the caribou went 40 miles down the Kantishna River to winter. About 200 wintered near Savage River.
1929.In May and June caribou were reported plentiful in the park, especially in the western section south of McKinley Fork. In September thousands headed south past Windy.
1930.In October a scarcity of caribou in the park occurred but thousands were reported in the Valdez Creek area east of Windy. The migration to this area escaped observation. In December about 5,000 were reported passing through the central part of the park.
1931.In April the caribou returned to the park, traveling west, and many were reported present in summer. In the winter of 193132 there was apparently no migration to the Broad Pass region. Thousands were reported wintering in the Lake Minchumina region to the northwest.
1932.In May caribou were reported returning to the park from the west and they were common in June. In November there were few caribou in the park but they moved in from the west in December, and 3,000 were estimated to be wintering in the eastern section.
1933.The caribou were abundant in the eastern part of the park from December to August, when they moved westward. In November there were few caribou in the park. At this time they were reported abundant near Lignite, 25 miles north of the park and along the railroad. Some wintered along the north boundary.
1934.In June, 10,000 caribou were estimated in the eastern part of the park. A few animals wintered near Savage River in 193435.
1935.In April large bands returned to the Wonder Lake section, presumably from the west or north and by May were ranging as far east as Savage River. In July approximately 5,000 caribou were seen in Sable Pass. In August they were scarce from Toklat to Park Headquarters. Notes are meager, but apparently few caribou were in the park in the winter of 193536.
1936.No caribou were seen in May but in June it was estimated that there were 25,000 between Igloo Creek and Mile 72. In July only a few were seen.
1937.In the winter of 193637 few caribou were found in the park. None was reported in May, but in June 2,000 were seen between Igloo Creek and Toklat River. In July it was estimated that there were 25,000 within the park boundaries. In August the migration had passed and only a few scattered ones were seen. During the fall caribou were scarce in the park.
1938.During the winter of 193738 a few caribou wintered at Savage River. Large herds were reported in the Kantishna area. Former Chief Ranger Corbley saw 500 on McKinley Fork bar in March. Many caribou were seen in the Wonder Lake area in April. In May, Ranger Rumohr reported 20,000 in the Kantishna region. During June bands of 20 to 200 were seen along the highway. In early July many migrated westward from Sable Pass. By August the caribou had gone to the west, and during the fall few were seen from the highway. It was estimated that from 1,500 to 2,000 wintered in the Savage and Sanctuary River regions, and that 10,000 wintered between McKinley Fork and Herron Creek.
1939.In the summer caribou were abundant in the park in May, June, and early July, and then they moved westward. Presumably they wintered west of Wonder Lake.
1940.In May caribou returned to the eastern section of the park and were plentiful in June and early July. In September there were many near Wonder Lake and along the north boundary.
1941.Many caribou spent the winter along the north boundary and west of Wonder Lake. They were abundant in the park in May and June.
From 1922 to 1931 a large part of the caribou herd moved over the Alaska Range in the fall and wintered in the Broad Pass region. Since 1933 the records indicate that the main herds have wintered in the Lake Minchumina area northwest of Wonder Lake and along the north boundary of the park. I am told that prior to 1935 about 1,000 caribou wintered on lower Savage River along the north boundary but that for a few years thereafter they were scarce. The number wintering within the park between Savage and Sanctuary Rivers has varied considerably. During the winters of 193536, 193637, and 193738 very few stayed here. In 193839 two or three thousand wintered in this region; in 193940 there were scarcely any, but in 194041 caribou were again wintering here. Although the main herds may winter in relatively small areas, smaller groups sometimes are rather widely distributed. Thus each year certain minor and major variations may occur.
For short periods in spring and summer large herds of caribou may be seen passing through the park, but within a few days the scene may change from one of abundance to scarcity. In the years that the caribou were wintering in the Broad Pass area there was a spring and fall period of abundance between Wonder Lake and Savage River. In the spring the caribou passed through the park going westward; in the fall they passed through it going eastward.
In recent years many of the caribou have come from the west in May and June and apparently crossed the Alaska Range at the head of Sanctuary River. Some caribou may cross the Range from Muldrow Glacier and eastward. In 1939, for instance, tracks were noted at Muldrow Glacier and as far west as McGonnagal Pass. In a few weeks they have recrossed the range and again traveled to the west.
Data gathered from the monthly reports of the Park Superintendents show that caribou have been abundant in the park east of Wonder Lake during the following months: