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Return of the caribou

Submitted by Marie Gilbert
Phone: (907) 474-7412


The caribou would come back, the elders said.

More than a century after caribou were last seen in their winter range on Alaska's Seward Peninsula, local reindeer herders are facing tens of thousands of returning caribou; just as their ancestors predicted. University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers studying how climate change and returning caribou are affecting reindeer herding in northwest Alaska asked Peninsula herders to describe how their communities are coping with the loss of animals, and in some cases, the loss of entire herds of reindeer to outmigration with the returning caribou.

The oral histories, part of a research project by Knut Kielland, Greg Finstad, William Schneider, and Josh Greenberg of UAF and Rose Atuk Fosdick of the Kawerak Reindeer Herders Association, can be heard on Heritage of Reindeer Herding: Voices of Herders on the Seward Peninsula and Alaska airing on Alaska public radio station KUAC-FM every Wednesday in July at 8:20 a.m.

The subjects of the episodes, in order of their airing, are: the history of reindeer herding, the heritage of herding families, the technology of herding and the last episode is about the caribou crisis.

"The project is an interdisciplinary study of the ecological and socioeconomic ramifications of the unprecedented and massive influx of caribou from the Western Arctic Caribou Herd onto ranges on the Seward Peninsula during the last decade," said Kielland, Institute of Arctic Biology researcher and the project's principal investigator.

"This ecological event stands to have drastic effects on reindeer herding in western Alaska and may serve as an insightful model of the feedbacks between climate change, environmental vagaries, and human land use in the circumpolar Arctic," Kielland said.

"During the first part of the project we documented the return of the caribou and the decline of the reindeer, now we want to see how people are adapting and adjusting to that change," said Greg Finstad, manager of the Reindeer Research Program at the UAF School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences.

"The oral history project is something we have wanted to do within the Kawerak Reindeer Herders Association for many years," Fosdick said. "It's a way to pass traditional knowledge on."

The 4-year project is funded by the National Science Foundation.


Marie Gilbert, Publications and Information Coordinator, UAF Institute of Arctic Biology, (907) 474-7412, marie.gilbert@uaf.edu

Knut Kielland, Professor, UAF Institute of Arctic Biology, (907) 474-7164, ffkk@uaf.edu

Greg Finstad, Program Manager Reindeer Research Program, UAF School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences, (907) 474-6055, ffglf@uaf.edu

William Scheider, Professor and Curator of Oral History, UAF Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, (907) 474-5355, ffwss@uaf.edu

Josh Greenberg, Department Chair and professor, Resource Management Department, 907-474-7189, ffjag@uaf.edu

Rose Atuk Fosdick, Administrator Kawerak Reindeer Herders Association, (907) 443-4377.

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