200 missing caribou push managers to drastically limit season on Nushagak Peninsula

A bull and cow caribou on yellow tundra.
Caribou on the Nushagak Peninsula. (USFWS Photo)

The state hunt for Nushagak Peninsula caribou will not open this season under the RC-501 permit. There are five available permits for the hunt on federal lands, all of which have been granted to the Manokotak Village Council.

The council can distribute those permits to qualified residents of the village, and those hunters must have an FC-1702 permit. The hunt opened August 1, and it closes at 11:59 p.m. on September 20. The bag limit is one bull. The hunt is open on portions of Unit 17A and 17C on the peninsula, south of the Igushik River and west to Tvativak Bay. 

These restrictions are a stark reversal from last season, when managers liberalized the peninsula caribou hunt in order to protect lichen coverage. Kenton Moos is the manager of the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. He says last year’s herd numbered around 700 animals, but in surveys this year, biologists estimated only 200-250 caribou with 33 bulls and 26 calves for every 100 cows. 

“This year, because of the numbers that we found were very concerning, we actually did three different flights, three different times, for three different estimates,” Moos says. “Essentially the minimum number of caribou that we had down there was a little over 200 with an estimated population of approximately 250 animals.”

Taking into account the 307 caribou harvested, Moos says, around 400 caribou should still be in the herd. Instead, 200 animals are unaccounted for.

“Last year there was basically a couple hundred animals we’re not exactly sure what happened to them,” Moos explains. “There’s a number of things that could have contributed to those missing animals. Predation, they may have moved off the peninsula, we know that there is some unreported harvest and those harvest reports are so vital for us to make these management decisions.”

Moos says it is important for hunters to turn in their harvest reports, as the information is vital to managers’ understanding of what happened to at least some of the 200 missing caribou. He says due to the current population, it is unlikely the Nushagak Peninsula Caribou herd will have a season next year, either.

“According to our plan, really we’re in the conservation mode right now,” he says. “This year of those 200 animals, there’s approximately 50 calves. If all those cows produce next year again, that’s another 50. Moose you can often times see twins being dropped — caribou is usually a single calf. Unless a large number of animals left the peninsula and come back, next year is going to be a fairly conservative approach as well.” 

Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game ask hunters to submit reports within five days of a successful hunt. Those who do not harvest a caribou should submit their reports within 15 days of the season’s end. Late hunting reports should be turned in as soon as possible. Forms can be found on the ADF&G website. 

Contact the author at brian@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

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