Aerial Surveys of Caribou and Arctic Fox

Principal Investigators Ryan Klimstra
Collaborators Alexander Prichard and Matthew Macander (ABR, Inc., Fairbanks, Alaska)
Funding NSB/Shell Baseline Studies Program


Potential oil development in the Chukchi Sea may result in an onshore pipeline that would extend across the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPR-A) and connect with the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). At this time, the exact route of such a pipeline is unknown but possible onshore landings include the vicinity of Wainwright. There is a need for baseline information about caribou calving and subsistence use in the area between Wainwright and Atqasuk. That information will be helpful in placing a pipeline in a location that would have the least amount of impact to caribou and hunters.

Similar to caribou calving, there is little information on the density of Arctic foxes in the same region. We know that fox density in the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay are higher than in undeveloped areas, possibly because animals have access to artificial dens and scraps of human food. Increased numbers of foxes in the oil fields may have negative impacts on geese, eiders, and other tundra nesting birds. We are collecting baseline data about foxes in the area between Wainwright and Atqasuk to try to limit the expansion of foxes in the event of pipeline development.

An initial aerial survey for calving caribou and fox dens occurred in 2013 with funding from the NSB-DWM. Preliminary results from that study indicate that about 8% of the caribou cows had calves. Continuing aerial surveys for cow/calf pairs during the calving seasons of 2014 and 2015 could help identify potentially important calving areas for animals from the declining Western Arctic and Teshekpuk herds. The fox den survey documented 76 dens in 2013. A single Arctic fox could potentially cache 2,000-3,000 eggs during the breeding season. Further, arctic fox have a high incidence of rabies and increased densities may result in public health concerns. NSB-DWM biologist Ryan Klimstra conducted the caribou surveys in early June and the fox surveys in early July of 2014. The map below shows the survey transects.



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