The Porcupine Caribou Herd

The Porcupine Caribou Herd is one of approximately 184 wild herds of caribou globally, the eighth largest herd in North America, and the largest migratory herd of mammals shared between the United States and Canada. The Porcupine Herd has been monitored periodically since the early 1970s. The population grew at about 4% per year from the initial censuses to a high of 178 000 animals in 1989. During the same period, the populations of all major herds increased throughout North America, suggesting that they were responding to continental-scale events, presumably climate-related. Since 1989, the herd has declined at 3.5% per year to a low of 123 000 animals in 2001. The Porcupine Caribou Herd appears to be more sensitive to the effects of climate change than other large herds.

The ecosystem defined by the range of the Porcupine Herd includes human communities, most of which depend on harvesting caribou for subsistence. Among these are the Gwich'in, Iñupiat, Inuvialuit, Han, and Northern Tuchone whose relationships with this herd have persisted over many millennia. Historically, caribou have served as a critical resource, allowing northern indigenous people to survive the hardships of the severe arctic and sub-arctic conditions. Times of caribou scarcity were often accompanied by great human hardship. Records and oral accounts suggest that periods of caribou scarcity in North America coincided with periods of climatic change.

Today, caribou remain an important component of the mixed subsistence-cash economy, while also enduring as a central feature of the mythology, spirituality, and cultural identity of Indigenous Peoples. The harvesting of the Porcupine Caribou Herd varies from year to year, depending on the distribution of animals, communities’ access to them, and community need. The total annual harvest from this herd typically ranges from approximately 3000 to 7000 caribou. Responsibility for management of the herd and protection of its critical habitat is shared in Canada between those who harvest the caribou (mostly Indigenous Peoples) and the government agencies with legal management authority.

Source & © ACIA Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment  (2004),
 Key Finding #4, p.71

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