Federal board considers restricting Mulchatna caribou harvest

Male caribou running near Kiwalik, Alaska. (Photo by Jim Dau)

The Federal Subsistence Board is considering a request to reduce harvest limits of the Mulchatna herd on federal lands from two caribou to one. The Temporary Wildlife Special Action Request would apply to a state registration permit. It’s identical to an emergency order passed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in August to limit the harvest on state lands. 

When biologists surveyed the Mulchatna herd this summer, they counted only 13,500 animals. That’s a decrease of about 50% from the last state survey, conducted in 2016. Because of that drop, the Togiak and the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuges requested federal action to reduce the bag limit and thus conserve the herd. 

A public hearing held in Dillingham on Oct. 3 centered on the request, which covers nine game management units for the 2019-2020 regulatory year. The units in question are 9 A, 9B, and 9C, 17 A, 17B and 17C, 18, 19A and 19B.

Mary Matthias is the natural resource director of the Orutsararmiut Native Council in Bethel. Calling in to the hearing, she said the council supports the request. She also asked the board to update its monitoring strategy. Matthias pointed out that when the 2016 survey was taken, the herd numbered only 27,000. That’s 3,000 less than the minimum population goal of 30,000 animals.  

“Subsistence users were taking home three or four or even six caribou,” she said. “Cows were also harvested. If the federal subsistence board had applied regulations on the limit back then, we wouldn’t be caught in the middle of this crisis to save the last thirteen five-thousand (sic) Mulchatna caribou.”

The council also asked the board to shorten the harvest by several months, meaning it would end in October. It currently runs from August to March. Matthias said that would further protect the herd. 

ADF&G Deputy Commissioner Ben Mulligan also phoned in to the hearing, calling for a more expedited process in the future. 

“Like a temporary emergency action, so with this conservation concern, it can be acted upon faster,” he explained.

The request is only to reduce the harvest limit. It would not close public lands to any user groups. The board expects to reach a decision on the proposal in the next few weeks. 

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200