• Caribou migration, subsistence hunting, and user group conflicts in northwest Alaska: a traditional knowledge perspective

      Halas, Gabriela; Kofinas, Gary; Fix, Peter; Joly, Kyle (2015-08)
      Alaska Natives of northwest Alaska are highly dependent on barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus) for meeting their nutritional and cultural needs. The Alaska Native village of Noatak borders the Noatak National Preserve (NNP), an area historically and presently used by Iñupiaq for subsistence caribou hunting and other traditional activities. Interactions between local and non-local caribou hunters were analyzed through the lens of common pool resource theory, which I linked to traditional Iñupiaq management of access and use of resources. This study examined changes in caribou migration and its effect on local caribou hunting success, which have been perceived to be the result of the interaction with non-local hunters and commercial aircraft operators transporting non-locals. Past research, decades old at this point, was undertaken prior to some regulations in place today, such as zoned use areas. To understand the implications of these changes, I documented the perceptions of local hunters by drawing on their traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), using a mixed methods approach to capture information on caribou ecology and human-caribou interactions. Mixed methods included a survey of active hunters, semi-structured participatory mapping interviews with local caribou experts of Noatak, key informant interviews, and participatory observation. Local hunters reported that caribou migration has changed, and there has been a decrease in the population of the region's caribou herd, the Western Arctic Herd (WAH). Hunters also reported that caribou hunting has changed substantially in the last five years, with fewer caribou harvested and hunters adapting to accommodate caribou migration shifts. Local hunters ranked aircraft and non-locals hunters as having the greatest negative impact to caribou migration and local hunting, followed by predation, climate change and habitat change. Noatak hunters perceived that their harvest of caribou is most impacted by non-local activity in the Noatak region. As well, local hunters reported that aircraft are a greater disturbance than on-the-ground non-local hunters. Participatory mapping revealed that use-areas are shared by local and non-local users along the Noatak River corridor, including both inside and outside zoned use areas. Suggestions by respondents for improved caribou management and conflicts with non-locals ranged from reducing non-local activity, working together with non-locals and aircraft operators, improving economic development for Noatak, and teaching youth of the village traditional hunting practices. Findings of this research demonstrate that local hunters have a rich, localized knowledge of human-caribou systems, which can contribute further to understanding of caribou-human interactions and in turn help to inform wildlife management decision-making.