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Barren Ground Caribou

Rangifer Tarandus Granti - "Tuttu"

The Porcupine caribou herd is the only barren-ground caribou herd found on the Yukon North Slope. This herd ranges throughout the northern Yukon, in the Northwest Territories west of the Mackenzie River, and in northeastern Alaska. Range use varies between years. The herd’s total range is approximately 250,000 km2.


The last population census was conducted in 2001. At that time, managers estimated the population of the herd at 123,000. No census has been conducted since then due to poor or unsuitable conditions. The State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game has estimated the herd size to be currently between 110,000 and 115,000 animals.

Population Trend

When the first count was performed in 1972, the herd size was estimated to be about 101,000 caribou. From 1979 to 1989 the herd was believed to be increasing at an estimated rate of 5%, reaching a population high of 178,000 in 1989. Since 1990, the herd has been in a slow but steady decline. Bad winters between 1990 and 1993 lowered rates of calf production and survival. In addition, cold springs and late thaws prevented cow caribou from making it to their customary calving grounds on the Alaska coast in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Between 1994 and 1998, the population dropped by about 4% per year. The 2001 census estimated the population of the herd at 123,000, indicating a 1.5% annual decrease in numbers between 1998 and 2001.

Unique or Special Characteristics

The Porcupine caribou herd is the larger of two barren-ground herds in the Yukon. The Forty-mile caribou herd (approximately 23,000 animals) ranges occasionally into a small section of the Yukon west of Dawson. The two herds have occasionally shared the same winter range.
The range of the Porcupine caribou herd occasionally overlaps during winter with two woodland caribou herds in the Yukon (Hart River, Bonnet Plume).
The management of the herd’s range involves many jurisdictions and agencies, including the Government of Yukon, the Government of the Northwest Territories, Parks Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Alaska State Department of Fish and Game. The Porcupine caribou herd sensitive habitats report lists 12 different land and wildlife management regimes and five different Land Claims settlement regions within the herd’s range.
Large areas within the herd’s range have some measure of species and/or land use protection. These areas include the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, Ivvavik National Park, Vuntut National Park, Herschel Island Territorial Park, Vuntut Special Management Area, Fishing Branch Ecological Reserve, Dempster Area Development Ordinance, and a "Special Conservation Regime" for the region of the Yukon North Slope east of the Babbage River.

Habitat Features

Important habitats on the North Slope include the calving grounds, post-calving areas, and insect-relief areas (early and mid-summer ranges). Much of the calving grounds are protected within Canada in Ivvavik National Park. Wilderness designation is being sought for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in order to protect the calving grounds in Alaska from development.


Harvest is heavily influenced by which migration routes and wintering ranges the herd chooses to use. There are many constituent harvesters of the herd: Inuvialuit, Gwich’in, and Yukon First Nations members; Yukon sport hunters; NWT sport hunters; and Alaskans. There are many different harvest reporting systems over three jurisdictions.

Porcupine Caribou Management Board has the mandate to advise the territorial governments on setting Canadian harvest levels should they become necessary (see Management section, below). The International Porcupine Caribou Board has a similar mandate for users of the herd in Canada and the United States.


Under the IFA, the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee has the authority to develop bylaws that apply to the Inuvialuit harvest of specific species, should such bylaws be needed. NWT regulations must then reflect these bylaws. Bylaws may also be reflected in Ivvavik National Park regulations and Yukon wildlife regulations. There are currently no Aklavik HTC bylaws in place for barren-ground caribou.

Inuvialuit Caribou Harvesting Rights
Ivvavik National Park Exclusive
Herschel Island Territorial Park Exclusive
East of the Babbage River Preferential
Adjoining NWT Exclusive on Inuvialuit land and preferential on Crown land

From 1988 to 1999 Inuvialuit harvest data was collected through the Inuvialuit Harvest Study. In the period from 1988 to 1997, the average annual harvest reported by Aklavik residents was less than 700 caribou.

The Government of Yukon, in partnership with the Aklavik HTC, has been collecting caribou harvest data from Inuvialuit residents of Aklavik since 2001. Harvest information recorded includes species, date, location, sex and maturity of the animal. Funding and support for the collection of harvest data is supplied through the IFA and other agencies.


Regulations under Yukon Wildlife Act, NWT Wildlife Act and National Parks Act apply in their respective jurisdictions. The annual reported harvest by Yukon resident hunters ranges from 200 to 250.

Other Resident Harvesting
Ivvavik National Park Not permitted
Herschel Island Territorial Park Not permitted
East of the Babbage River With license
Adjoining NWT With license

The Porcupine Caribou Management Board is currently developing a Harvest Management Strategy in cooperation with all the user groups to address the growing concern about the continued decline in the herd’s population and new hunting regulation recommendations. The intent of the strategy is for all groups with an interest in the herd to agree on the best ways to manage human use of the herd in the future. A Harvest Management Strategy Workshop took place in October, in Inuvik. The PCMB anticipates that the strategy will be complete by 2008. (Information on the strategy can be found at


The Porcupine caribou herd is an important feature to tourists traveling to Ivvavik National Park, rafting the Firth River, visiting Herschel Island, or traveling the Dempster Highway.


Hydrocarbon development on the calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a major threat to the herd. Other negative impacts include ecological changes as a consequence of climate change and air-borne contaminants. There is also the potential for overharvest and disturbance from hunting along the Dempster Highway.

Species at Risk Status

  • Yukon: none
  • COSEWIC: none
  • CITES: none

Research and Monitoring

Population and other management research and monitoring is conducted by the designated responsible agencies on the advice of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board and the International Porcupine Caribou Board.

Population Monitoring

Porcupine Caribou Management Plan recommends that a photo census of the herd take place once every three years. No census has been conducted since 2001 due to poor or unsuitable conditions. Calving rates and distribution are monitored each spring. There is also an ongoing program to record species observed on Herschel Island.


Intensive research was initiated in the early 1970s as part of an environmental assessment of the proposed gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to the Mackenzie Delta. Research by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) continued in response to the construction of the Dempster Highway, the proposed exploration and development of the Alaskan coastal plain, and northern oil and gas development in the Beaufort Sea. These CWS studies have investigated range use, food habits, and activity patterns on calving grounds (1979-81), on spring bull range (1983), and on summer range (1984-1986). Since 1987 research has focused on annual changes in body condition and their effect on reproduction. Relationships between snow depth, lichen availability and winter distribution have also been examined. Data on calf growth rate, calving site selection, range use, productivity, survival, and mortality rates continues to be collected. Snow depth and density are also monitored every year on the winter range. Current research has included modeling the impacts of development and climate change on the herd.

The State of Alaska's Department of Fish and Game has conducted a Porcupine Caribou Herd Calving Survey every year since 1987. Results of the 2007 survey can be found at calving_report_2007.pdf

A satellite collaring program was begun in 1985. There are currently 15 caribou fitted with satellite collars.These collars automatically report the location of the animals and provide biologists with regular information about the timing and routes of the migrations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is using information from all collared caribou to determine mortality rates on the herd. More information on the satellite program can be found at


Harvest data collection is not consistent or always accurate. The impacts of the Dempster Highway on harvest and migration are not fully understood.


Management of the Porcupine caribou herd is guided by the Canadian Porcupine Caribou Management Board (') and the International Porcupine Caribou Board according to their management plans:

The two management goals set out in the Management Plan for the Porcupine caribou herd in Canada are: for the caribou to be healthy and reasonably abundant with free use of traditional ranges; and for people to traditionally use and fully appreciate the caribou and their ranges. ). The Porcupine Caribou Management Board (PCMB) is a joint management board established under the Porcupine Caribou Management Agreement signed in 1985. The Board consists of eight members representing six signatories (Government of Canada, Government of Yukon, the Government of the Northwest Territories, Inuvialuit Game Council, Gwich'in Tribal Council, and the Council of Yukon First Nations).

Management of The Porcupine Caribou Herd
Ivvavik National Park IFA Parks Canada International Porcupine Caribou Agreement, 
Canadian Porcupine Caribou Management Plan
Plan for the International Conservation of the Porcupine Caribou Herd
Core calving area, summering
Hershel Island Territorial Park Yukon Wildlife Act YTG Summering
East of the Babbage River National Parks Act YTG Summering
Adjoining NWT NWT Wildlife Act GNWT Summering, spring and fall migration

2005 - 2006

In the spring, after the ice moves and the river clears up, people always go down river to hunt caribou. If they’re lucky, the first hunters run into the caribou and would always get fresh meat to bring home. Our caribou are not that close by to the community. We have to go long ways to hunt and it is lots of work. So if people that don’t have equipment, meaning boats or guns, it’s very hard for them. Some people use their skidoos to hunt. That makes it harder for those that go down later because they have to walk long ways to hunt and sometimes they get nothing. People have to go long ways to hunt in the spring or summer. In the fall, when the migration’s going south, if you’re lucky, people could get caribou close to the river. After the caribou pass on their migration, then we are out of luck to hunt. If the caribou stay close by, which hasn’t been seen for a long time, we could have some caribou around for the winter. Hardly anyone hunts during the winter time, because the caribou are too far back or in the Yukon area. Most people reported that the caribou are in good health. There were very few reports of sick or poor caribou, only if wounded or by infection.

2004 – 2005

In the spring, when the ice moves down river and river is clear enough to travel, people usually go down river to hunt caribou. When they come down to the river or around the lakes, if they are lucky, they run into the scattered caribou close by. People that have good outfits sometime take their skidoos and hunt caribou. But this is not easy for other hunters who have to go a long ways back into the hills to hunt and carry their caribou meat back if they get one. Some people reported the caribou they got in the spring were a mix of skinny and fat.

The fall migration is early sometimes, but by the time they reach West Channel area people hunt them. If we don’t get the leading herd, the caribou they stay around for a while. This fall we had caribou close by, till they started going south. Most people said they met their needs for caribou this year.

In the wintertime, people hardly do any hunting for caribou, as they are all gone south. Only a few stray ones are maybe left behind. But nobody goes hunting much in winter.

2003- 2004

People say caribous used to winter close by, but that has not been seen for a long time. In the fall, when caribous are starting to migrate south, they are always beginning to see them around Shingle Point in early August. Then they would pass if nobody hunts the leading herd. People that hunt do not let the leading herd past by the time they reach further into the Delta, and sometimes young hunters who are not experienced hunters would just start killing caribous, not knowing if it is the leading herd or not. Then the animals would scatter everywhere. So that is the reason why we do not get caribou close by for a long time. Some people would hunt with skidoos even in the summertime; it is too long to walk, so they chase them further back in the hills. This makes it hard for the people who are walking to hunt for caribou. Even if they would hunt and share the caribou with others, this would be good; as gas costs so much, when they get so far and do not get anything, it’s very hard on them. There’s caribou, but hunters have to go a long ways to hunt them. All caribou were in good shape, and they were mixed groups. Some say planes fly too low over caribous and scare them back toward the hills. This makes it hard on the animals when the planes circle over them. The animals like to be close to lakes or rivers to cool off, so the noise would naturally confuse them.

2002 - 2003

Residents say that the caribou were coming close this year and they say that the caribou were probably changing their routes. Some say again that the caribou were too far and this brings hardships on some families because the cost of gas keeps going up so that’s one problem that they’re facing. Some people do go out hunting but again can’t predict where they are or that they were too far. A lot of comments were made that they are probably picking or changing their routes. The availability this year from what residents commented on is that the caribou were just not available and they say that they really didn’t get their normal supply of caribou for the winter. One main comment that I heard was it’s the highway or no way if people had to go from Aklavik to Inuvik go on a highway to get some caribou. The body condition, people say if they got caribou whether from family or generous friends, the caribou looked good and it was fat and someone even measured it and it was 3 inches thick. If they did see caribou the groups were average and it was a mixed population. Again, trying to get where caribou are puts a burden on a family because the cost of gas is going up. Some people even said that without caribou meat this winter or this year, it really put a burden on a family because now they have to buy their meats and other solid foods they have to pay for. Because before they just got it from the land their caribou and that was one burden that I heard from most of the people.

Related Literature and Information Sources

Canada, Government Of and United States Government. "International Conservation Agreement" Jul 1987

Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op. "Community Monitoring Report 2005 -2006" ABEKS 2007

Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op. "Community Monitoring Report 2004 – 2005" ABEKS 2006

Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op. "Community Monitoring Report 2003 – 2004" ABEKS 2005

Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op. "Community Monitoring Report 2002 – 2003." ABEKS 2004

Cooley, D. "Personal communication" Government of Yukon, Department of Environment. 2005

Gordon, Danny C. "Personal communication" Elder Aklavik, NWT. 2005

Government of the Northwest Territories - Department of Environment and Natural Resources "Caribou Forever – Our Heritage, Our Responsibility: A Barren-ground Caribou Management Strategy for the Northwest Territories 2006 – 2010" NWT Environment and Natural Resources 2006

Government of the Northwest Territories, Department of Environment and Natural Resources "Summary report from the NWT Barren-ground Caribou Summit," NWT Environment and Natural Resources Inuvik 2007

Griffith, B., D. C. Douglas, N. E. Walsh, D. D. Young, T. R. McCabe, D. E. Russell, R. G. White, R. D. Cameron, and K. R. Whitten "The Porcupine Caribou Herd" 2002

D. C. Douglas, P. E. Reynolds, and E. B. Rhode "Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain Terrestrial Wildlife Research Summaries" . U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, Biological Science Report USGS/BRD/BSR-2002-0001 2002 pp. 8-37.

Joint Secretariat 2003 "Inuvialuit Harvest Study, Data and Methods Report 1988 – 1999" Inuvik, NT 2003

Parks Canada "Annual Report of Research and Monitoring in National Parks of the Western Arctic" Parks Canada 2003

Canada, Parks. "Vuntut National Park of Canada Management Plan." Parks Canada 2004

" Plan for the International Conservation of the Porcupine Caribou Herd"

"Porcupine Caribou Management Agreement"

" 20th Annual Report: 2005-2006" Porcupine Caribou Management Board

Russell, D "Personal communication" Canadian Wildlife Service, Whitehorse 2007

Russell, D., A. Martell, and W. Nixon. " Range ecology of the Porcupine caribou herd in Canada" Rangifer Special Issue No. 8. 1993 pp. 1-168.

"Summer Ecology of The Porcupine Caribou Herd. " Porcupine Caribou Management Board, 2nd edition 2005

Did You Know?

In September 2009 the Council published a traditional knowledge study on Porcupine Caribou out of the community of Aklavik. To view the report click on the link below: