Picture: Allen Miller/U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service “Caribou cross the Kanektok River in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge on Aug. 25, 2009. The Mulchatna caribou herd, which ranges in the refuge, has declined sharply since the 1990s, and scientists cite numerous factors. The controversial Mulchatna predator-control campaign was conducted this spring to help boost the herd’s numbers.”
Orutsararmiut Native Council (ONC), the tribal organization for Bethel, has passed a resolution supporting the state’s predator control program aimed at addressing low Mulchatna caribou herd numbers in Western Alaska.
The Mulchatna herd saw a 96% decrease from a peak of 200,000 in 1997 to just 12,000 in 2017. Herd numbers have remained dangerously low since, and a hunting ban in place since 2021 has affected communities across Western Alaska.
The state’s most recent control effort was specifically aimed at increasing calf survival on the herd’s western calving grounds north of Dillingham. In a controversial move, during a 17-day period from May 10 to June 4, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) staff removed 94 brown bears, five black bears, and five wolves from the area.
The ONC resolution in support of the state also calls for the support of the Association of Village Council Presidents, which it received at the association’s annual meeting in Bethel on Sept. 21.
ONC Director of Natural Resources Alissa Nadine Rogers spoke on behalf of the resolution.
“The predator control program, it gives a chance for our calves in the calving ground where this is taking place,” Rogers said. “Bears are ripping out calves before they’re even dropped on the ground from their mothers.”
Rogers also noted the strong opposition to predator control coming from outside the region.
“There’s people in the lower 48 that are fighting very hard to remove our predator control program. In order to protect our resources and do the management we need to do, we have to stand up and let our voices be heard. This resolution does just that,” Rogers said.
From within Alaska, two separate lawsuits have been filed opposing the state’s predator control efforts, saying that the Mulchatna herd’s problems are not related to predation. The lawsuits cite habitat changes, overgrazing, the infectious disease brucellosis, and illegal hunting as key factors in the decline.
While ADF&G has acknowledged habitat and disease as factors, the agency said, “predator control is an immediate tool the department can use to attempt to reverse the herds’ decline.”
ONC will next seek to have their resolution heard by the Alaska Federation of Natives at its annual convention from Oct. 19 to 21 in Anchorage.