Caribou hunting under fire in Alaska for non-subsistence hunters

Proposals to eliminate season in northwest part of the state for anyone other than subsistence hunters

Kristen A. Schmitt

It could be the final frontier for hunting caribou in the Last Frontier, at least for nonresidents (technically anyone who isn't a subsistence hunter) who want to hunt in northwest Alaska. The Alaska Board of Game is currently considering several proposals that would eliminate a nonresident caribou season in the northwest part of the state as well as reduce bag limits for subsistence hunters, according to HOWL for Wildlife.

Since 2017, what is known as the largest caribou herd in North America has been steadily declining, resulting in closures – mostly on federal land – to nonlocal hunters to keep those who subsistence hunt able to do so. The most recent survey conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (AKDFG) of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd tallied 152,000 animals, which is a drop from the 2022 survey that counted 164,000, according to Alaska Public Radio. To put that in perspective, in 2017, the herd size was estimated at 259,000.

“Within that short timeframe, we’ve lost 100,000 caribou within this population, which is significant,” said Alex Hansen, AKDFG’s Kotzebue-based biologist, in December.

Later this month, the Alaska Board of Game will review several proposals that would change current caribou seasons. Proposals 3 and 38 would close the following units to nonresident hunters: Units 21D Remainder, 22, 23, 24B Remainder, 24C, 24D and 26A. Proposals 2, 36 and 37 would reduce bag limits for resident (subsistence) hunters. Right now, it is unclear as to whether passage of these proposals would impact subsistence hunters, according to HOWL for Wildlife

Current regulations allow five caribou per day (cows or bulls) for residents with a year-round season on bulls and a seven-month season for cows. Federal subsistence regulations allow for five caribou per day with a year-round season for bulls and eight-month season for cows.

All of these proposals will be discussed during the Jan. 26 to 29 board meeting. 

If you want to weigh in on any of these proposals prior to the meetings, click here. The deadline to comment is Jan. 12, 2024.

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