Content related to: stewardship

Caribou Migration, Subsistence Hunting, and User Group Conflicts in Northwest Alaska: A Traditional Knowledge perspective

Project Objectives:

  • To document local and traditional knowledge on caribou, caribou hunting, hunting conflicts
  • To support subsistence and caribou resources
  • To have Noatak people give feedback on caribou management

Purpose of this Study:

  • Document the traditional knowledge of Noatak hunters' on caribou distribution and movements, and to document how Noatak hunters' interactions with non-local hunters are affecting their caribou hunting experiences
  • Part of a larger National Park Service funded project, examining perceptions of sport hunters, soundscapes effect on caribou, and collared caribou movements
  • No previous effort has documented local and traditional knowledge of caribou as held by Noatak people
  • We sought to understand to what extent Noatak caribou hunters have experienced encounters with non-locals hunters, and how those encounters are affecting their hunting experience and success
  • We also examined perceived importance of not seeing non- locals while caribou hunting, compared to other facets of hunting
  • This poster presents preliminary results from the first phase of the study, which included surveys with 62 active caribou harvesters in Noatak. The second phase of this study included participatory mapping with local caribou "experts"

Project Outcomes or Intended Outcomes:

The Noatak Caribou Traditional Knowledge Project documented a wealth of knowledge by local Noatak hunters about a range of topics ‒ on caribou behavior, migration, and hunting practices. The study also documented the interactions and experiences of local hunters with non-local hunters and commercial operators working in and near the Noatak National Preserve.

The findings of this study show that caribou hunters of Noatak are concerned that caribou migration is changing. These changes are seen to be due to a number of factors, but mostly because of the presence of aircraft and non-local hunters in the region. Predation by wolves and bears, climate change, and habitat change were also identified as having negative impacts to caribou migration and caribou hunting. Noatak hunters reported that safety and harvest of caribou largely determine what makes for a successful caribou hunt. Noatak hunters reported that these changes have resulted in a decrease in harvesting caribou, with hunters having to go on longer and more caribou hunting trips, and seeing more people out while hunting. Local and non-local hunters often used the same areas along the Noatak River, both inside and outside special areas, such as the National Park Service Commercial Use Area and the Noatak Controlled Use Area, and often during same hunting seasons (fall). Noatak hunters have specific ideas on how management of caribou hunting could be improved and hope their ideas will be considered by decision makers.


Klinse-Za Caribou Recovery

Project Description:

In response to recent and dramatic declines of mountain caribou populations within their traditional territory, West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nations (collectively, the "Nations") came together to create a new vision for caribou recovery on the lands they have long stewarded and shared. The Nations focused on the Klinse-Za subpopulation, which had once encompassed so many caribou that West Moberly Elders remarked that they were "like bugs on the landscape." The Klinse-Za caribou declined from ~250 in the 1990s to only 38 in 2013, rendering Indigenous harvest of caribou nonviable and infringing on treaty rights to a subsistence livelihood. In collaboration with many groups and governments, this Indigenous-led conservation initiative paired short-term population recovery actions, predator reduction and maternal penning, with long-term habitat protection in an effort to create a self-sustaining caribou population.

Project Outcomes or Intended Outcomes:

Recovery actions and the promising evidence that the abundance of Klinse-Za caribou has more than doubled from 38 animals in 2013 to 101 in 2021, representing rapid population growth in response to recovery actions. With looming extirpation averted, the Nations focused efforts on securing a landmark conservation agreement in 2020 that protects caribou habitat over a 7986 km2 area. The Agreement provides habitat protection for >85% of the Klinse-Za subpopulation (up from only 1.8% protected pre-conservation agreement) and affords moderate protection for neighboring caribou subpopulations (29%–47% of subpopulation areas, up from 0%–20%). This Indigenous-led conservation initiative has set both the Indigenous and Canadian governments on the path to recover the Klinse-Za subpopulation and reinstate a culturally meaningful caribou hunt. This effort highlights how Indigenous governance and leadership can be the catalyst needed to establish meaningful conservation actions, enhance endangered species recovery, and honor cultural connections to now imperiled wildlife.