September 23, 2013
The following update on the Western Arctic caribou herd was written by NPS wildlife biologist Kyle Joly, PhD. Click here for a copy of the flier. If you are hunting caribou in this region, please feel free to leave a comment below sharing your observations, including where you've been and if you have or haven't seen any caribou.
Western Arctic Herd caribou calve in the Utukok Uplands, north of the Brooks Range, in early June and spend most of the summer in Noatak National Preserve, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, and the BLM-managed National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). While some caribou often stay north of the range for winter, the vast majority of the herd has consistently migrated south through Kobuk Valley National Park to reach their wintering grounds. This path has been used by caribou, and caribou subsistence hunters, for over 10,000 years.
As of September 21, 2013, less than 30% of the collars have crossed the Noatak River and none across the Kobuk River - making this the latest migration documented by the program thus far. Many caribou are still north of the Colville River on the North Slope.
Investigations as to what may forctor into the timing of caribou migrations are on-going. As for this year's late fall migration, a very late spring or a mild fall may have contributed to this unusual movement pattern. Subsistence hunters may have a hard time finding caribou this year.
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Did You Know?
Even though Kobuk Valley National Park gets only 50 cm of rain and snow each year, much of the lowland tundra is soggy. Permafrost, many feet below the surface of the soil, prevents the water from draining away.