Citing population decline, ADF&G closing hunt early for Mulchatna caribou herd

Mulchatna Caribou. (Image credit Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will soon close the hunt for the Mulchatna caribou herd for the rest of the season. The closure will take effect this Friday, Jan. 31, at midnight. The restriction is a conservation measure following the herd’s dramatic population drop to half the size that it was three years ago. The hunt was originally scheduled to close in March.

The state’s announcement to close the hunt is the most recent development in a series of tightening regulations around the herd.

In August, the state reduced the bag limit from two caribou to one caribou. Federal managers followed suit for federal lands, and restricted harvests to bulls in western game units. In December, federal managers closed the hunt entirely in their jurisdiction. At that point, the state still wanted to gather input from subsistence users and kept its hunt open. Since then, ADF&G has talked with many of those users and received support from the Board of Game to close the hunt. The goal is to increase the herd’s population.

“If we harvest too many bulls, or too many animals in general, there won’t be any growth in the herd, any minimal growth in the herd,” said Todd Rinaldi, ADF&G Regional Management Coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Conservation for Central Southwest Alaska.

The state doesn’t know why the population dropped and is working to fill holes in its understanding of the herd. For years, ADF&G has surveyed how many calves per cow are born each season and how many of those calves survive. Those numbers have looked healthy. This winter, the department began adding surveys of the herd’s adults to determine their survival as well.

State managers want the communities who hunt the caribou to understand the herd’s conditions and the state’s decisions. To spread the word, ADF&G will be rolling out a robust communication plan.

“That communication plan is going to involve not only emails to previous and current permit holders, but it’ll have direct postal mailings to all current box holders in the region,” Rinaldi said.

The department will also begin publishing a news magazine called “Caribou Trails” to distribute information on the Mulchatna caribou herd. Also, in March, the department plans to begin visiting communities who rely on the caribou.

“To not only make people aware of what the current regulatory situation is, but to give them the full breadth and understanding of where the Mulchatna caribou herd has been and where it’s going, and also to provide our plan moving forward,” Rinaldi said.

The hunt requires a permit and remains open until Friday. The department asks that hunters who take a caribou report their harvest to ADF&G.

Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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