To the editor:
Michelle Hunter's letter ("Caribou declines," Oct. 10) contained several factual errors that beg correction.
In claiming Alaska caribou herds are healthy, she seems to ignore the very Hanley article she cited, for it notes the Porcupine Herd has been in serious decline for a number of years. The Fortymile Herd is also in serious decline. Annual slaughters since the 1950s when the road was first built have certainly helped keep the population down, especially when the hunt harvest limit is exceeded as it was by more than 200 animals this year. Also, the Mulchatna and Western Arctic herds are declining. This is Hunter's first major error.
Ms. Hunter says our state biologists have studied the herds and know why their numbers fluctuate, implying predators are always at fault. But in an April 15, 2009, News-Miner article, Cathie Harms of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said: "Caribou herds tend to grow and decline. ... Smaller herds tend to be governed by predation, and larger herds tend to be governed by habitat." Hunter again tries to blame predation for all fluctuation, once more ignoring Hanley's article where wildlife researchers feel external parasites, early ice crusting over vital forage and early green-ups are more likely to blame. Again, major errors.
Her claim human hunters take only 2 percent of the annual mortality contradicts hunter harvest statistics from ADF&G, as a quick search at the ADF&G Web site reveals. Her statement wolves account for 80 percent of Alaska caribou mortality must be taken with a large grain of salt in view of what Harms of ADF&G said in the aforementioned quotation.
In Denali National Park, where predator numbers are normal and healthy, the caribou population is doing well. This directly contradicts Hunter's theme that predators are the chief factor in a herd's health. Perhaps the lack of meddling by the Alaska Outdoor Council is a significant factor in the health of the park's various species.
Hunter might be well-advised to read Adolph Murie's classic studies about caribou and predation, for he found a healthy predator population and healthy herds can easily co-exist.
Art Greenwalt, Fairbanks