Stephanie Joyce, of KUCB in Unalaska, reports a dwindling population of free-range reindeer on St. Paul Island, Alaska, has locals on edge for the upcoming hunting season.
After a brutal winter on the island, the population has dropped dramatically. The pre-winter count of 500 animals is now estimated to be around 125. Islanders rely on a healthy reindeer population to supplement their diets.
The history of St. Paul, a remote island located in the Bering Sea, is a difficult one. The Privylovs, which including St. Paul, St. Peter and St. George, were uninhabited islands discovered in 1786 by Russian fur trader Gavrili Pribylov. In 1788 the Russian-American Company enslaved and relocated the native population of Atka and Unalaska to the Pribilofs. The only sources of food on the islands were seals, seabirds and some vegetation, so in the early 1900s reindeer were introduced. Reindeer remain a vital food source to the 479 residents, most of whom live a subsistence existence. Groceries, particularly other meats, are extremely expensive. Ground beef, for example, cost $7 a pound on St. Paul.
According to Joyce, The St. Paul Tribal Government, which has managed the herd since the 1980s, will attempt another count later in the summer. But it is not expected the numbers will be much higher.