In 1967, Larry Davis snow machined from Nome to Cape Espenberg. When he returned, he brought with him 200 reindeer — a herd that would eventually swell to 10,000 in the 1990s. But that’s just a piece of recent history.
Larry’s son — Bruce Davis — is the owner of the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch. On Monday, he sat down with members of the Reindeer Club to talk about the big picture.
He asked: “What year do you think reindeer herding came to Alaska?”
“1900? 1969? 1920?”
Those are the kids who make up Reindeer Club, a program borne from collaboration between Davis’ ranch and Nome Eskimo Community. Now in its second summer, the club meets on Mondays to learn about different aspects of reindeer herding.
On Monday, Davis focused on history, explaining how reindeer were introduced to Alaska in 1892. But he didn’t stop there. He touched on topics from corral construction to vaccinations to the lichen his reindeer like to eat.
His goal is to educate young people on the ins and outs of reindeer herding. He says it’ll take time for Alaska — having herded for just over 100 years — to catch up to places like Chukotka, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, which have been refining their techniques for 4,000 years.
“We’re trying to revitalize the reindeer industry again, but it’s dying out,” Davis said. “So we have to get the young people involved again. So it takes a while. This is part of our outreach — to let you guys know that reindeer herders are still here.”
For the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch, “here” means 13 miles out on the Kougarok Road. The ranch opened in 2010, and its herd now includes 100 reindeer. The most beloved is Brownie, a yearling that was orphaned before being adopted and domesticated by the Davis family.
While the kids in Reindeer Club called Brownie back to her trailer on the ranch, the rest of the herd ranges across an area 50 miles wide and 30 miles deep. Davis says he eventually hopes to grow the herd to 3,000 or 4,000 reindeer, a process that could take 10 to 15 years. He also has plans to evolve the small summertime club into a larger 4-H program.
For now, the Reindeer Club will meet weekly on Mondays through August. Interested kids can contact Nome Eskimo Community for more information.