The Arctic Sounder

Hunters across several Alaska regions unite to advocate for Western caribou herd protection

Hunters from several Alaska regions agreed this week to advocate for protecting the declining Western Arctic Caribou Herd.

During a joint meeting, three subsistence regional advisory councils — Northwest Arctic, North Slope and Western Interior Alaska — unanimously approved a recommendation for harvest limit reduction on federal lands. They voted to suggest reducing caribou harvest from five animals a day to 15 per year, with only one of which may be a cow. If adopted by the Federal Subsistence Board in April, the limit would apply to most of the herd’s range, except for the eastern portion of the North Slope which harvests from other caribou herds.

The state already adopted a corresponding harvest limit reduction earlier this year.

[State adopts reduced subsistence hunting limit for Western Arctic caribou of 15 animals a year]

The vote — made during one of the meetings of the four-day event for the regional subsistence advisory councils — came after a debate.

In their testimonial, NANA officials pointed out that “there are strong concerns about making people criminals by creating such intense limits on caribou.”

The original proposal for the Subsistence Board proposed a much more drastic harvest reduction — to 5 animals a year — which would apply to the whole range of the herd. Modifications suggest softening that reduction to 15 animals and excluding the eastern portion of the North Slope from it.


Raymond Woods from Shungnak first spoke against those modifications, arguing that people living in the range should all take a decisive step to protect shrinking caribou.

“North Slope is not agreeing with us, with what we’re trying to do to preserve our caribou. Sometimes it’s really hard to try to have a meeting together,” Woods said. “The caribou are still gonna migrate, the land is still gonna be out there for us, but we need to help them preserve. We need to make decisions together and work together.”

John Quincy Adams, who is the subsistence research coordinator at the North Slope Borough Wildlife Department, spoke for the modifications.

“I can understand the conservation needs for reducing the Western Arctic Caribou Herd harvest but on the North Slope, we have different herds that we can rely on,” he said. Plus, he added that 15 animals a year is necessary for hunters to feed their families and everyone n the community who cannot hunt. “We’re always constantly sharing — sharing our catch. ... We only hunt what we need and what we to sustain ourselves, our families, our Elders and our people.”

Utqiagvik resident Brower Tiġitquuraq Frantz added that North Slope is open to a significant harvest reduction.

“These are our relatives, my direct relatives that we’re talking about taking food away,’ he said about Wainwright, Point Lay and Point Hope residents to whom the reduction would apply. “That doesn’t sit well with me, but we’re open to this modification.”

After a heated discussion, attendees started leaning to a compromise.

Robert Schaeffer said that hearing the arguments of the North Slope residents helped him understand their perspective.

“Maybe this is possibly the better way to go,” he said about a modified proposition. “We all have to work together. Because you can talk and fight all you want but when the day is done, we all have to compromise or come up with something.”

After the unanimous vote to support the modified proposition, the councils also agreed to advocate for the need to limit non-local hunters. Representatives from each of the councils plan to meet separately to draft a letter to the Federal Subsistence Board.

Jenny Pelkola of Galena shared that she recently attended a funeral potluck where she hardly saw any Alaska Native food. The experience saddened her.

“And to hear our people talking about having no food, It just really hurts my heart,” she said. “We need to keep on working together. We need to have more meetings together. The more meetings you have, the stronger you get,” she continued. “Don’t give up. Just stand together. .. Hold each other up and continue to fight.”


Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.