The Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game (ADFG) have completed and calculated their surveys for the Central Arctic Caribou Herd (CAH) and the Porcupine Caribou Herd (PCH). The Central Herd migrates directly clockwise through Prudhoe Bay, North America’s largest oil field, and the Porcupine Herd migrates counterclockwise through the 10-02 Coastal Plain of ANWR on its way south to the Interior and Canada.
The ADFG completes an aerial survey of the herds as weather permits every two years. The survey results for 2013 for the Central Herd are an estimated 51,000 animals, down 8% from approximately 65,000 in the last count done in 2010. The Porcupine Herd population had risen from 169,000 animals in 2010 to 197,000 in 2014. The figures incorporate a statistical correction for intermixing between the two herds which occurs each year as the two herds migrate along the North Slope. It was estimated that the initial count of the Central Herd of 70,000 animals contained about 5000 Porcupine caribou.
The ADFG has monitored all the arctic caribou herds for decades and has shown a steady increase in the Central Herd for the past 35 years until this years small decline. The decline was thought to be primarily due to the late spring thaw the year prior that kept forage covered and thus did not allow animals to build up sufficient body mass to survive the winter migration. What is significant is the conclusions by biologist that the industries presence in the migration path of the Central Herd did not play an effect on the herds decline.
The environmental movement was adamant during the debate on constructing the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) that it would irretrievably harm the herd’s migration and cause its terminal decline. The exact opposite has occured. A similar argument has been made by environmentalists NGOs against development in the 10-02 Area of ANWR with regards to the Porcupine Herd. It is highly likely that a similar result will be met. Decades of study and reports by ADFG have shown that the industry’s presence has not had a negative effect on population of the herd.
What the population graphs of both herds has shown clearly is that whether the herd comes in contact with industry (Central Herd) or not at all (Porcupine Herd), herds will boom and bust with forage and predation and weather, not with contact with industry. The two herds, the smaller more vulnerable Central Herd and the larger wider ranging Porcupine Herd have proven very well that it is nature not industry that has determined their numbers. To date not a single caribou has been killed or harmed from contact with industry.
It is likely the Central Herd will recover its numbers if weather allows good forage next year. A similar fate can be said of the Porcupine Herd until the number of animals simply cannot be maintained by the land.