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SELAWIK: On the Trail of Caribou
Alaska Region, May 8, 2006
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Nate Olson, biologist at the Selawik NWR, helps two Selawik students plot the winter movements of Western Arctic caribou, April 2006.  Photo by Susan Georgette.
Nate Olson, biologist at the Selawik NWR, helps two Selawik students plot the winter movements of Western Arctic caribou, April 2006. Photo by Susan Georgette. - Photo Credit: n/a

The Western Arctic caribou herd, with almost half a million animals, migrates through the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge twice each year.  In late spring the herd heads north to its summer range, and in fall returns south to its wintering grounds.  But where exactly do these caribou go? 

High school science students in the Iñupiaq community of Selawik recently explored this question.  With a list of coordinates in hand, they bent over table-sized maps and practiced pinpointing caribou locations using the latitudes and longitudes provided by refuge staff. Each mark depicted the location of a satellite-collared caribou.  By the end of the class period, the students were rewarded with a map of northwest Alaska crowded with colored dots showing the caribou’s recent southward migration.

Nate Olson, wildlife biologist for Selawik NWR, coached the students in interpreting and plotting the data.  Weekly locations were available for eight caribou throughout the winter.  In some weeks individual caribou barely moved, while in other weeks they covered many miles.

This tracking effort is a follow-up to a caribou collaring project several of the Selawik students participated in last fall.  In that project students spent time in the field with state and federal wildlife biologists, applying radio and satellite collars to caribou and learning about caribou ecology and management.

The tracking project helps not only students but the entire Selawik community learn more about the movements of the caribou herd that passes by their homes.  Local residents gain a greater understanding of how activities in areas “beyond the horizon” might impact the long-term conservation of the herd. This project illustrates FWS’s active promotion of involving refuge communities in resource management.

The tracking project is funded by the Fish and Wildlife Service Challenge Cost Share Program and was approved by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group, an advisory body of subsistence hunters, sport hunters, hunting guides, outfitters, reindeer herders, and conservationists who work closely with state and federal resource agencies. 


Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov



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