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> July 17, Caribou and Brian
Leslie_Pierce
post Jul 19 2005, 07:24 AM
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July 17, 2005

We got up this morning to a very windy, overcast, and chilly day (down to 42 F). So, we dressed much warmer than we had previously and looked out at ABR Island across the slightly choppy channel. It looked cold. But, we’re here to get a job done, whatever the temperature. I had actually expected most of our days to be like today, and we were lucky to have had such nice days up until now. So, off we go! The ride over in the kayak wasn’t bad, the waves and wind made it a little difficult to move in the direction that we wanted to head but we made it with no problems and didn’t even get wet.

Near the south edge of the island there was a high and dry spot where we had our lunch that was covered with flowers. The flowers in the arctic are not large and you might have to get down on your hands and knees to get a good look, but they are beautiful. Tiny little flowers are swaying in the wind on slender stems hovering over tiny rosettes of leaves – the saxifrages – in yellow, white, and pink. The arctic poppies are just starting to bloom and we’ve also seen wooly lousewort, coltsfoot, moss campion, windflower, heather and more. It’s amazing to see these delicate little flowers surviving in this cold and windy environment. We finished three transects and decided that was enough for the day. We were whipped by the wind and starting to get chilled to the bone. The fog had moved in and we couldn’t see our island very well. We decided we had better get back before the weather got any worse. We’ll come back tomorrow and finish the other two transects.

We can see the Big Island on the left in front of us, but our island is pretty fogged in. You can see the kayak where we left it during our transects. We wedged it in a gully so that it wouldn’t blow away in the wind!
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We passed by one area during our day with lots and lots of caribou tracks. We had seen caribou moving north several days earlier and this must have been that group. These caribou are from the Teshekpuk caribou herd, one of four on the North Slope of Alaska. The herd gets its name from its calving grounds which are around Teshekpuk Lake. Its population numbers around 45,000 and it is the only herd that spends the entire year above the Brooks Mountain Range. The other three herds are the Western Arctic (population ~500,000), the Central Arctic (population ~30,000) and the Porcupine (population over 100,000). The Teshekpuk caribou calve around mid-June and as the weather gets warmer and the bugs come out, they move north of the lake to the coastal areas for insect relief. The Teshekpuk herd is very important for traditional subsistence use for all eight villages on the North Slope. The caribou meat is an especially important source of protein for villages, especially Anaktuvuk Pass where 80% of their diet includes caribou. Skins are used for traditional clothing, like parkas and mukluks, and pads for sleeping and cushioning in sleds. Tendons are used for sewing seal skin boats used for whaling. So, the caribou are a very important resource for the people of the North Slope.


Brian crosses a slough following the many tracks of the caribou that we had seen moving north earlier this week.
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Brian has another project near Teshekpuk Lake setting up fenced exclosures to study the effect of the caribou on the tundra habitat. Finding out how they use the habitat and coupling that with data on caribou movements from satellite collars, the North Slope Borough will be in a better position to understand the caribou. This information is important to the Borough for making decisions about oil and gas exploration and development in this area. The North Slope Borough is unique in that as a municipality they created and support a wildlife management department that is dedicated to these issues.

A little bit about Brian -
Brian Person has been working for the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management for about two years now. He was hired to work on caribou and snow geese and the interactions between these terrestrial animals and their habitat. His PhD work, from University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2001, dealt with plant-animal interactions with several species of geese on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in southwestern Alaska. His Post-Doc dealt with reindeer grazing systems and reindeer handling and meat production on the Seward Peninsula in northwestern Alaska, as well as expanding his goose research on the Y-K delta. Brian’s background helps the North Slope Borough diversify their research program.

Brian moved to Alaska in 1981 from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he learned to appreciate the outdoors, hunting and camping with his family. Those experiences eventually led him to pursue a career in biology. (Brian says “Hi Ma!”)
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