The Board of Game, in its recent meeting in Kotzebue, should have approved the recommendation of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd (WACH) Working Group to limit hunting to four caribou per year, with only one of those allowed to be a cow. The herd has declined by 70% in the past 20 years, largely due to hunting regulations that allowed hunters to kill five caribou per day for 365 days per year, totaling a potential take of 1,825 caribou per person.
The WACH Working Group, whose way of life and culture is inextricably tied to the WACH, worked very hard to build consensus to conserve the herd by limiting hunting to four caribou per year. As one person stated, caring for the herd is the same as caring for the people who subsist on the herd because the herd and the people go hand in hand.
This limit on hunting would have imposed a hardship on all the people who hunt the WACH. However, an even greater hardship would result if the WACH were to disappear altogether, which happened many years ago when members of the herd were overharvested to provide hides and food to people in the area who were searching for gold and whaling. It’s a miracle that the herd rebounded and grew to 500,000 in the early 2000s.
The primary consideration of the WACH Working Group was the conservation of the herd. The Board of Game, which has constitutionally imposed public trust-like and fiduciary duties to conserve and manage the wildlife in Alaska for the benefit of all Alaskans including future generations, needs to focus on conservation because the way they are managing caribou in Alaska is not working. Instead, the Board of Game supported the interests of hunters, including nonresident hunters, to hunt the WACH over the interests of the people who live in the area and have very limited options for finding food.
This reminds me of King Solomon’s threat to split the baby over whom two women were arguing was their son. The people of Kotzebue were willing to give up the baby to conserve the WACH, while the Board of Game offered to split the baby, inevitably leading to the continuing decline of the WACH. This should tell you who cares about conserving the WACH.
— Michelle Bittner
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