One of the world’s biggest caribou herds is continuing a long-term population slide, according to new numbers released this week by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The Western Arctic Caribou Herd is down to 164,000, a decline of 24,000 from the population count made last year and roughly a third of the peak herd populations last reached in the early 2000s, according to the numbers.
There is no obvious reason for the past year’s decline, but it is not surprising, said Alex Hansen, a Kotzebue-based Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist who is part of the team monitoring the herd.
The Western Arctic Caribou Herd is, in most years, the largest of Alaska’s 32 herds. Its range covers a nearly California-sized swath across Northwest Alaska that stretches from the North Slope in the summer to the eastern Seward Peninsula in the winter.
The herd is important to Indigenous villagers in northern Alaska who depend on the animals for food and for cultural traditions. That potentially makes the herd’s decline a problem, Alaska Beacon reports.