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Caribou Working Group Opposes Ambler Mine Project, Says Herd is Stable

A male caribou runs near Kiwalik, Alaska. Photo: Jim Dau.

The Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group (WACH) voiced opposition to part of the Ambler Mining District project and passed a formal motion against the proposed access road during their latest regular meeting last month.

Charlie Lean, one of the 20 working group members, says WACH reached consensus on the mining project access road, but for different reasons.

“And the vast majority opposed it, the mine and the road in general. I found it noteworthy that both the Anchorage and Fairbanks stakeholder representatives voted against the road, because their problem was it wasn’t a public road, it was going to be an industrial road with limited use. Many of the other people, that was exactly what they were afraid of, and they didn’t believe that it would remain an industrial road.”

During the working group meeting in December, an update was given on the status of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, but the latest, most accurate population counts were unavailable. With inconclusive data, the working group felt that the recommended harvest should be kept at status quo.

“There are indices like the cow mortality rate or the bull-cow ratio or the calf-cow ratio, and those things are indicators, but they are not the same as having an actual count. So, our (the working group’s) recommendation was to hold steady; we believe the population is stable at a low number.”

As Lean explains, sometimes, accurate census data can’t be gathered through aerial surveys.

“It was a strange spring. There was a lot of snow, and the caribou were delayed getting to the calving grounds. So, to get a good census, you need to have the caribou clumped up well, so they can fly over and take photos without having to photograph the whole North Slope. So, they just weren’t aggregated completely, and so, it didn’t work out.”

Based on input from working group members like Tom Gray, it seems that the herd’s migration south is slowing and changing. Gray says that typically, by mid-November, thousands of caribou move further south onto the Seward Peninsula, but this year, at that same time, those animals were only near Buckland.

According to Lean, it is likely fewer caribou than usual from the WACH will be on the Seward Peninsula this year.

An updated census of the herd’s population is expected to be completed in the spring.

Image at top: file photo: A male caribou runs near Kiwalik, Alaska. Photo: Jim Dau.

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