Belated caribou migration may be result of warming Arctic

Caribou must swim across the Kobuk River during their annual southward migration.

flickr, Western Arctic National Parklands

Temperatures have been unnaturally high this autumn in Alaska, and we aren't the only creatures who may have noticed.

The Western Arctic's caribou herds migrated from the north about a month behind schedule this year.

Every year, 325,000 of these animals travel from their summer grounds in Gates of the Arctic National Park and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) to the southern Brooks Range for the winter season. Their migration schedule has been known to fluctuate, but records from the past decade indicate that this year's delay is part of a general trend.

This year's was the latest migration across the Kobuk River documented by the national park biologists who meet them there annually. They are collecting data on this species through collars placed on members of the herd. Biologists have noted that hunters who rely on these animals for subsistence may have a hard time locating them this fall, and thus preparing for winter themselves. 

See the map below of general caribou herding grounds in northern Alaska, courtesy of USFWS:

In addition to caribou, the Western Arctic is home to a plethora of other beautiful wildlife as well as Alaska Natives, both of whom have been residents there for thousands of years. The Wilderness Society is working to keep this wild place and its heritage protected for thousands more.

In spite of our efforts, this migrational trend seems to indicate that the landscape is changing. An even greater risk is being posed by the prospect of oil drilling in the Arctic. Companies are actively exploring this possibility, despite the numerous risks that it would pose to this pristine, wonder-filled landscape.

Join us in protecting the caribou and the remarkable, wild place they call home. Sign up for Wildalerts for regular opportunities to weigh in the government's decision making process for Alaska's Arctic wildlands.