Further analysis of aerial photos from the July 2009 Western Arctic Caribou Herd census has resulted in a reduced population estimate. The previous estimate of 401,000 caribou indicated an increase in the herd over the 377,000 animals identified in a 2007 census. The revised estimate of 348,000 caribou points to a continued, modest decline.
"The herd is still very large, individual caribou appear to be healthy, the rate of decline is still modest, and harvests are not thought to be affecting its status," said biologist Jim Dau. "The revised estimate will not result in any immediate changes to management activities or hunting opportunities. The revised total is within a range of acceptable count variation and the herd is still considered stable, though slowly declining."
Biologists intensified monitoring of this herd after the 2007 census suggested the onset of a decline. The revised 2009 count of 348,000 caribou indicates that the Western Arctic Herd has declined 4-6% annually since its peak of 490,000 caribou in 2003.
"After exceeding a population size of 400,000 caribou for over 20 years, a period of slow decline is probably preferable to continued growth and the possibility of an eventual, abrupt decline," said Dau.
Caribou herds fluctuate naturally due to a variety of factors. The Western Arctic Herd numbered 242,000 caribou in 1970 and then declined to 75,000 by 1976. The herd steadily increased until peaking at 490,000 animals around 2003, then fell to 377,000 caribou in 2007, indicating the onset of a decline after more than 25 years of growth. The accuracy of previous census counts was checked and no errors were detected.