The Porcupine herd ranges between the northwest of the NWT, Across northern Yukon to Alaska. According to a 2017 survey, there are about 218,000 animals in the Porcupine herd. The area where the herd calves in Alaska is known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. For many years, there have been attempts to open up the refuge to oil and gas exploitation, a move resisted by the Gwich’in people who rely on the herd, and by environmental organizations.

Related news

Why Drilling the Arctic Refuge Will Release a Double Dose of Carbon

This online article talks about how caribou grazing may slow climate change. Caribou grazing tends to slow the growth of taller tundra shrubs - these shrubs help permafrost to thaw, which in turn releases more greenhouse gases from the permafrost. It uses this as an argument against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge, a calving area for the Porcupine caribou herd.
24 February 2021 | yale 360

Canada’s environment minister concerned about Alaska seismic project impacts on Indigenous communities and trans-border wildlife

News item about the concerns raised by Canada's Environment Minister regarding planned development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The area is the calving ground for the Porcupine Caribou herd that ranges into Yukon and the NWT. Seismic work in the reserve is planned for this winter, stretching into the time when caribou begin arriving in the area for calving.
11 November 2020 | RCI - eye on the Arctic

Quannah Chasinghorse Is Fighting to Save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

A magazine story about the female Indigenous youth activists involved in the struggle over oil and gas exploitation in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area that contains the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. The story explores the motivation of the activists.
23 September 2020 | teen vogue

Gwich’in file lawsuit against Trump administration to save Arctic Refuge

An article about the lawsuit filed by a coalition of Indigenous and environmental organizations to try to counter plans by the US government to open up the Arctic National Widlife Refuge to oil and gas development. The Refuge on Alaska's Arctic coast covers the calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd that migrates between Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
8 September 2020 | Inuvik Drum

'There's nowhere like it': Alaska's wildlife refuge fears death by drilling

A news story about the Trump administration's plan to open up the Arctic National Widlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling for oil and gas by the end of 2020. The refuge currently protects the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. The story notes that lawsuits and lack of demand for oil may dampen the propsoect of development in the area.
21 August 2020 | The Guardian

troubled tundra

A long magazine article on the future of the Arctic National Widlife Refuge in Alaska. The refuge is home to the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd that migrates between the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska. The refuge is threatened by a changing climate and by ongoing attempts to open it up for development.
24 June 2020 | earth island journal

The new north

Some great pictures of the Porcupine caribou migration here in this photo essay on the north's changing climate.
1 June 2020 | The Narwhal

Chasing caribou across a changing Arctic

A 2019 magazine article about a student following the Porcupine herd and documenting the vegetation. Lots of photos.
15 March 2020 | The Narwhal

Northern Indigenous leaders meet with banks to persuade them not to invest in Arctic energy development

First Nation has long fought repeated attempts at oil exploration that would affect a vital caribou herd, which they say is crucial to their way of life
18 December 2019 | Financial Post

Indigenous governments strike agreement permitting shared management, harvest of Porcupine caribou

A 2019 news story about an agreement between Indigenous governments in Yukon and the NWT regarding management of the Porcupine herd.
30 August 2019 | Yukon News

Parties celebrate caribou management accord

Five Indigenous governments with a cultural connection to the Porcupine caribou have signed off on a new approach to manage the harvest if the herd gets into trouble.
28 August 2019 | Whitehorse Daily Star

Porcupine Caribou and ANWR 2018

  Letter from the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee to the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program EIS at the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management opposing proposed development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, calving ground of the Porcupine caribou herd  
16 August 2019 | CARC

Let them pass: PCMB recommends hunters stop harvesting Porcupine caribou during migration

Hunters are being urged to lay off harvesting Porcupine caribou so that the herd can make it to its traditional winter range.
7 August 2019 | Yukon News

Across Canada, caribou are on course for extinction, a prominent expert warns. What happens after that?

While the threats caribou face are complex and vary by region, the common denominator is human activity, primarily through resource development and, increasingly, climate change.
29 October 2018 | Globe and Mail

Related resources

Renal trace elements in barren-ground caribou subpopulations: Temporal trends and differing effects of sex, age and season

An academic paper that looks at the level of some metals in kidneys of some northern caribou. It found that copper levels are decreasing in the caribou kidneys, possibly due to changes in what caribou are eating. The paper concludes, "Declining Cu concentrations in caribou are of concern as low levels could potentially negatively affect reproduction and therefore caribou at a population level."
Science of the Total Environment (2020)

Merging indigenous and scientific knowledge links climate with the growth of a large migratory caribou population

This academic paper collected both scientific and traditional knowledge inputs about the state of the Porcupine caribou herd over ten years. The study "...indicates that a large migratory caribou population can grow and improve condition in a global context of caribou decline and climate warming, thereby warning against generalizations about the influence of climate on all caribou populations."

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Format: web

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Interchange and Overlap Among Four Adjacent Arctic Caribou Herds

This academic paper looks at four barren-ground caribou herds in Alaska (including the Porcupine herd that ranges into northern Canada) to try to understand how often individuals change herds. Of the four herds studied, the Porcupine herd had the lowest incidence of caribou joining another herd. The authors concluded, "There was greater herd interchange from the 2 smaller herds to the 2 larger herds, indicating a tendency of caribou to join larger groups or move to areas of higher caribou density."

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Contaminants in Arctic Caribou Synopsis Report 2019-20

A 9 page synopsis report of the Arctic Caribou Contaminant Monitoring Program. The program covers several Arctic herds. It concludes, "Levels of most contaminants measured in caribou kidneys were not of concern toxicologically, although renal [kidney] mercury and cadmium concentrations may cause some concern for human health depending on the quantity of organs consumed. Yukon Health has advised restricting intake of kidney and liver from Yukon caribou, the recommended maximum varying depending on herd (e.g. a maximum of 25 Porcupine cariboukidneys/year). The health advisory confirms that heavy metals are very low in the meat (muscle) from caribouand this remains a healthy food choice. There have been no health advisories issued for caribou in NWT or Nunavut."
Northern contaminants program (2020)

Synopsis Report 2018/19 Arctic Caribou Contaminant Monitoring Program

This project studies contaminant levels in caribou in the Canadian Arctic to determine if these populations remain healthy (in terms of contaminant loads), whether these important resources remain safe and healthy food choices for northerners and if contaminant levels are changing over time.

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Format: pdf

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Report to the Hunters of the Porcupine Caribou – February 2019

With the help of local hunters, we have been taking samples of the Porcupine caribou since 1991. We collect these samples to study changes in the level of contaminants kidneys and livers of caribou.

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Porcupine caribou resources and tools

This is a web page on which you can search for categorized information on the Porcupine caribou herd.
Porcupine Caribou Management Board (2019)

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Tactical departures and strategic arrivals: Divergent effects of climate and weather on caribou spring migrations

A 2019 academic paper that looks at factors affecting caribou migration timing and speed. The paper concludes that  later arrival at calving grounds might indicate that females are in worse condition, and that calving and calf survival rates might be lower.

Caribou Use of Habitat Near Energy Development in Arctic Alaska

A 2019 academic paper that looked at the responses of a herd in Alaska to oil and gas development. It says there is growing evidence that caribou do not get used to such developments, and continue to avoid them, reducing the range available to the caribou and disturbing their movements.

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Format: web

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Vulnerability analysis of the Porcupine Caribou Herd to potential development of the 1002 lands in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

A 2019 “vulnerability analysis” on the Porcupine caribou herd (PCH) assessing its vulnerability to oil and gas development in the herd’s calving grounds in Alaska. The analysis found that “...the percent probability of the PCH dropping into Orange and Red Zones (where legislated harvest restrictions are imposed) is increased by 10% -18% (Alt D2-Alt B) compared to baseline conditions.”
Yukon Department of Environment (2019)

Gwich’in Knowledge of Porcupine caribou

A thorough and very informative 2019 book of Gwich’in traditional knowledge of the Porcupine caribou. It includes information on hunting practices, on the uses of the caribou, caribou tanning, caribou clothing, how the caribou influenced seasonal movements, and caribou management
Gwich’in Tribal Council (2019)

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SPECIES STATUS REPORT: Porcupine Caribou and Barren-ground Caribou

A lengthy NWT government Species at Risk assessment of barren-ground caribou and Porcupine caribou. It classifies the Porcupine caribou as “not at risk” in the NWT, and the other herds as “threatened” within the NWT. The assessment contains parallel tables that compare Indigenous and scientific knowledge on aspects of the caribou.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2017)

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Measurements of cesium in Arctic beluga and caribou before and after the Fukushima accident of 2011

Concern from northern communities following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident of March 2011 has prompted a reassessment of the safety of their traditional foods with respect to radioactivity levels. To this end, a study was conducted to measure the levels of radionuclides in Arctic caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and beluga (Delphinapterus leucas).

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VADZAIH – cooking caribou from antler to hoof

A caribou cookbook produced by the Porcupine caribou management board
Porcupine Caribou Management Board (2016)

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Biomagnification of Perfluorinated Compounds in a Remote Terrestrial Food Chain: Lichen-Caribou-Wolf

The biomagnification behavior of perfluorinated carboxylates (PFCAs) and perfluorinated sulfonates (PFSAs) was studied in terrestrial food webs consisting of lichen and plants, caribou, and wolves from two remote northern areas in Canada. Six PFCAs with eight to thirteen carbons and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) were regularly detected in all species.

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Assessing risk of mercury exposure and nutritional benefits of consumption of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation community of Old Crow, Yukon, Canada

The contamination of traditional foods with chemical pollutants is a challenge to the food security ofAboriginal Peoples.

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Format: pdf


Being Caribou

This one hour and twelve minute 2004 video follows a couple who follow the migration of the Porcupine caribou herd. It was prompted by the threat of development in the calving grounds of the caribou
National Film Board (2004)

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Cadmium in caribou and muskoxen from the Canadian Yukon and Northwest Territories

Cadmium, zinc, copper and metallothionein concentrations were measured in liver and kidney tissue of caribou and muskoxen collected from various sites in the Canadian Yukon and Northwest Territories. Cadmium concentrations in caribou tissues were substantially higher than in muskoxen for all age classes and were comparable to concentrations reported for caribou from northern Quebec and Norway.
Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) (1994)

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Frequently Asked Questions: The Porcupine caribou and development in ANWR

An undated recent “frequently asked questions” document from the Yukon Government on the opening up of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (calving ground of the Porcupine caribou herd) to industrial development.
Yukon Department of Environment