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Two-for-one on Alaskan caribou

Peter Varga
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 18, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - They may be may be off-limits to hunters in the Northwest Territories, but barren ground caribou are apparently plentiful in Alaska.

NNSL photo/graphic

Striker Overly, co-owner of Alaska Arctic Adventures in Tok, Alaska, poses with a caribou he hunted while guiding last year. The Alaskan outfitter is offering a two-for-one deal for hunters who lost bookings for barren ground caribou hunts in the Northwest Territories. - photo courtesy of Alaska Arctic Adventures

And one outfitter there is hoping to attract hunters who have lost their bookings in Canada.

Alaska Arctic Adventures, based in Tok, Alaska, is advertising a two-for-one deal for hunters who lost their bookings for barren ground caribou in the Northwest Territories. Most, if not all of those hunters are expected to be from the 48 states of mainland U.S.A., co-owner Striker Overly said.

"They're going to be people from the United States that booked hunts with outfitters from the NWT," said Overly, adding that the deal is being advertised through agents who book for outfitters.

Advertising got underway last Friday. The company has had some inquiries for the hunting deal, said Overly.

"The economy's really bad right now," Overly said from Alaska, adding he hadn't booked any hunts from those shut out by the hunting ban in the NWT as of Tuesday. "I don't know how Canada's been affected, but in the U.S. there's a lot of outfitters that aren't busy, just because of our poor economy."

Still, the guide remains optimistic, as the outfitter has recently opened a new area advertised as "right in the middle of the largest barren ground caribou herd in the world," -- home to about 600,000 such animals, he said.

"It's just a good marketing technique for us," said Overly, pointing out that Alaska Arctic Adventures is a relatively small, new company, run by guides with many years of experience. The hunting deal "kind of of helps out those people that were misplaced also," he said.

The deal offers $52,000 U.S. for the first caribou hunted and the second for free "to all hunters who had booked in the Northwest Territories for 2010 and were shut out when that area was closed," an online ad reads.

Such deals do not worry the territory's department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, because barren ground caribou hunting "is essentially shut down for the season," said Richard Zieba, the department's director of tourism and parks.

"There's no place where you can hunt barren ground caribou" in the territory, said Zieba. "You can hunt woodland caribou in some places, but that's a completely different species."

The territorial government banned hunting of the Bathurst caribou herd on Jan.1, in an area that covers nearly 120,000 square kilometres north of Yellowknife. Environment and Natural Resources minister Michael Miltenberger ordered the ban to protect the herd, after it found the herd's population plunged to 32,000 in 2009 from 128,000 in 2006. Declines in other barren ground caribou populations elsewhere led the government to ban hunts on other herds for the current hunting season.

About 95 per cent of barren ground caribou hunters in the NWT are typically from the United States, Zieba confirmed. Some 700 to 900 visitors would normally come to the territory to hunt the animal and typically spend $7 million per year.

The loss of such spending due to hunting bans are "certainly a major hit for the North Slave region and the Yellowknife area," said Zieba. "Because a lot of that money would be spent by outfitters.

"It has some spin-off effects on other industries that supply the camps."

Most hunters who come to the territory for barren ground caribou are in pursuit of a specific hunting trophy for that animal, he said, which could lead those hunters to go to Alaska instead, where it is possible to hunt them.

Gerry LePrieur, executive director of NWT Tourism, downplayed the effect of the ban pointing out that there are several other wild animals to hunt in the territory.

Hunters, he said, "won't just come here to hunt caribou. They'll come to hunt other species.

"We have black bear, more sheep, goats, muskox, bison. They'll come here to hunt the species they like to hunt."