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Feral Reindeer Aerial Survey

Reindeer herd at Red River

Full Survey Memo

Thirty-two reindeer were introduced to the Lazy Bay region of Kodiak Island in 1921, and granted to the native peoples by the Department of the Interior. A cooperative was formed (“The Alitak Native Reindeer Corporation”) in 1931 to manage the reindeer. Residents of Akhiok managed the herd, and the population grew throughout the 1940s and 1950s. The population reached a peak of approximately 3,000 head by 1950. A wildfire in the early 1950s destroyed a large portion of reindeer range, during which an estimated 1,200 reindeer escaped into the wild. Active management of the herds ended in 1961, and federal grazing leases were allowed to expire in 1964. Reindeer were not removed from the formerly leased lands, despite a letter from the US Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife that declared that any property not removed from the leased area would become US government property (June 10, 1963). The following year, the State of Alaska declared the reindeer to be feral and established an open season, no bag limit hunt on feral reindeer, with no same-day-airborne harvest. Shareholders of the Alitak Native Reindeer Corporation disputed the government’s claim, but after negotiations with lawmakers, they agreed to sell the herd to the State for $10 a head. However, the deal was never sealed for unclear reasons. Despite this, harvest regulations continued to remain unchanged for the following 40 year.

Historical estimates of reindeer abundances are vague due to a lack of formal surveys. Reindeer were not surveyed until the late 1970s, when 250 reindeer were counted near the Ayakulik and Sturgeon Rivers. Since then, the population appears to have remained relatively stable at approximately 250 – 300 animals in the same region.

In 2002, ADF&G authorized same-day-airborne hunting of reindeer. However, concerns over a perceived decline in herd abundance prompted the Alaska Board of Game to reinstate a ban on same-day-airborne hunts in 2010. The change further restricted harvest potential by instating a 6-month hunting season, and limiting annual take to one reindeer per hunter. The impacts of these recent regulatory changes to reindeer abundances are unknown, however, there is concern that these changes may increase reindeer abundances and lead to associated degradation in fragile tundra habitat. Understanding the relationship between regulatory changes and reindeer abundances requires robust annual estimates of population abundance. To attempt to quantify the effect of harvest management on reindeer abundances, KNWR initiated annual surveys of reindeer abundance.
Last Updated: Apr 09, 2012
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