• Reindeer herding, weather and environmental change on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska

      Rattenbury, Kumi L. (2006-12)
      Intrinsic to the discussion about climate change is the effect of daily weather and other environmental conditions on natural resource-based livelihoods. Reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska have relied on specific conditions to conduct intensive herding in response to winter range expansion by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd (WAH). From 1992 to 2005, over 17,000 reindeer (affecting 13 of 15 herds) were lost due to mixing and emigration with the WAH. An interdisciplinary case study with one herder provided insights about the role of weather within the social-ecological system of herding. Inclement conditions disrupted herding plans at the same time that a smaller herd, diminished antler markets, and rising fuel costs have been disincentives to continue herding. Travel-limiting conditions, such as reduced visibility, delayed freeze-up, and early break-up, were implicated in herd loss to caribou or predators by several herders. However, these conditions have rarely been measured by climate change research, or they involve combinations of environmental factors that are difficult to quantify. If such events occur more frequently, as predicted by local residents and climate change models, herders will have to adapt to shorter and warmer winters, along with the continued presence of caribou in the region.