Fortymile Caribou, all 43,000, Enter Chena River Valley
RUT SEASON: High numbers mean herd is growing, looking
Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / October 1, 2003
FAIRBANKS -- The Fortymile caribou herd has moved into the Chena River Valley
and taken up residence in the hills behind Chena Hot Springs in far larger numbers
for that area than old-timers can recall.
As many as 9,000 caribou are congregating in the vicinity of Chena Hot Springs
Road, said state wildlife biologist Craig Gardner. The bulk of the herd -- about
25,000 caribou -- is loitering at Far Mountain, about 10 miles east of Chena
The Fortymile herd, the largest in the Interior at 43,000-plus animals, moved
into the valley 60 miles east of Fairbanks over the weekend.
Steve and Annette Verbanac have seen small pockets of caribou two other times
in their 26-year occupation of Angel Creek Lodge at Mile 50 Chena Hot Springs
"It's the first time we've seen a herd this big," Steve Verbanac said. "I wished
I had a movie camera to get some pictures."
The bulls were bringing up the rear of the herd, he said. He spotted several "nice" bulls
and one that fell into the "exceptional" category.
But hunters won't get a shot at any of the animals. The Alaska Department of
Fish and Game closed the season in that area on Friday for fear hunters would
exceed the harvest quota of 90 animals if word got out that the herd was near
the road. The hunt was scheduled to close at midnight Tuesday.
The Fortymile herd has shown a wandering tendency in recent weeks. A month ago,
the caribou appeared to be headed for the Taylor Highway. Then it suddenly traveled
about 200 miles back toward the Steese Highway, where the animals showed up last
week, prompting the state to close down the Steese Highway hunt. Those caribou
continued to travel southwest into the Chena River Valley over the last few days.
"They are so mobile during the rut," Gardner said, referring to the mating season.
The presence of the herd in the Chena River Valley simply means the herd is growing
and looking for new range, biologists said.
The Fortymile herd has nearly doubled in size from 22,000 animals in 1995 to
43,000 this year. It has been the focus of a recovery plan that included the
sterilization and relocation of wolves to reduce predation as well as reduced
harvest by hunters.
A poor calf crop this spring prompted the state to reduce this year's harvest
quota by 300 animals. But the health and future of the herd appears to be good
based on composition counts done last week, biologists said. The bull-to-cow
ratio was high, and biologists saw lots of yearlings, both bulls and cows.
There's no telling how long the caribou will linger before continuing its fall
"They did this last year, and two or three weeks later they were crossing the
Canadian border," Gardner said, referring to the herd's sudden movements at this
time of year.
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