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State biologists seek to avoid slaughter of highway-hugging caribou

Alaska Dispatch

State biologists are working on ways to prevent an over-harvest of caribou in the Fortymile Herd that seem to be lingering near the Steese Highway, according to Tim Mowry of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

A winter registration permit hunt for the herd is due to open Dec. 1, with a harvest quota for the Steese Highway portion of the hunt at 150 animals. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Cathie Harms said many caribou were bunched near the highway last week.  “Last we heard,” she told the News-Miner, “they were standing on the road.” Fish and Game will decide by Nov 26 whether to make changes to the hunt.

Should a large number of caribou remain easily accessible along the highway, Fish and Game could slow the harvest by limiting the number of hunters, Harms said. The department is considering a scenario in which hunters — Alaska residents only — would call in to get their names put on a list on a first-come, first-served basis. Fish and Game would only allow a certain number of hunters in the field at a time.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to provide a small amount of opportunity even if the caribou are there,” Harms said.

The population of the Fortymile herd has been growing steadily from fewer than 10,000 animals in 1975 to an estimate of more than 50,000 in 2010, according to Fish and Game.  

A video of the Fortymile herd is here.