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US, Canada discuss future of Porcupine Caribou Herd

Jillian RogersThe Arctic Sounder

Members of the International Porcupine Caribou Board gathered in Dawson City, Yukon, last month to discuss the future and health of North America's fifth largest migratory caribou herd.

"Obviously we're very pleased that the herd is in good shape," said Barry Smith, the regional director of the Canadian Wildlife Service, Pacific and Yukon Region, from British Columbia last week. "And that we're able to conduct the science to assess the herd like we have in the last two years; that's an important achievement."

At the meetings, members of the board, which was formed in 1987, from both sides of the border gathered to discuss conservation strategies and ideas on how to spread the word to communities affected by the herd.

While social media outlets like Facebook will be used to reach some, radio is still the most effective way in reaching interested parties in the more remote villages, Smith said.

"Radio is a better way to access people," he said. "Not every remote community or culture are up to date on things like Facebook."

The board includes representatives from federal agencies, conservation groups and Native tribes from both countries and remains "very collaborative and cooperative."

Also at the meeting, the board compared harvest management plans from Alaskans and Canadians and heard an update on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan.

The meeting gave the board a clearer understanding of the upcoming and ongoing challenges, said Geoff Haskett, the Alaska regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a release.

Ongoing challenges including the never ending push for oil and gas exploration in ANWR.

Last month, an exploration plan for ANWR was rejected again, this time by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Daniel Ashe.

"The meetings are an opportunity to further the work of the board in conserving the herd and its habitat on both sides of the border," Haskett said. "It's gratifying to see two countries come together in such a productive way over something as valuable as the shared Porcupine caribou herd resource."

This herd roams over approximately 96,526 square miles of northern Alaska, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. These caribou are the primary subsistence resource for Native people in all areas where the caribou roam.

According to the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, the herd numbered at around 169,000 in 2010. The herd peaked back in 1989 when numbers reached approximately 178,000 but had dropped dramatically by 2001 when the herd reached a low of 123,000.

"Eighty-five percent of the Porcupine caribou harvest occurs in Canada, requiring the development of much more responsive protocols and procedures for caribou management in Canada than in the U.S.," according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "In the U.S., the herd's relative inaccessibility has so far limited hunting opportunities and development pressures."

The objectives of the international board are to conserve the Porcupine Herd and its habitat through international cooperation and coordination, ensure opportunities for traditional uses and enable users of Porcupine caribou are able to participate in the international coordination of the conservation of the herd.

The next meeting is slated to happen via teleconference in April, 2014.

This article originally appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.