Indicator Assessment Reports


Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op

Indicator Assessment: Broad Patterns of Annual Movements of Caribou


The range of the Porcupine Caribou herd, including general movements and seasonal distributions, has been determined based on over 20 years of survey information, including personal communication with local residents, aerial surveys and satellite radio-collar data. Most surveys were in response to four proposed development projects: the proposed construction of a pipeline from Prudhoe Bay Alaska to the MacKenzie delta (early 70s), the development of the Dempster highway and the proposed gas pipeline that would parallel it (late 70s), proposed hydrocarbon activity in the Canadian Beaufort Sea (mid 80s), and proposed petroleum exploration and development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (early 80s to present).

Currently there are no active satellite collars on caribou from the Porcupine Caribou herd. Since the late 80s, annual systematic surveys of the herd have only occurred on the calving grounds (ADFG). Telemetry flights flown in March, to facilitate spring composition counts, give a rough indication of the winter distribution (YTG).


The Porcupine Caribou herd is the cultural and economic mainstay of many communities in the north. It is important that we be able to track, and possibly predict, changes in the pattern of annual movements and seasonal distributions resulting from factors such as industrial developments and climate change. Long-term trends in the distribution of the herd will only be available for the calving and spring period if we rely on aerial survey information. Systematic aerial surveys are expensive and historically have only occurred in response to proposed developments. Fragmented distribution information gathered during other research activities is not adequate to deliniate the movement and distribution of the herd on an annual basis. To obtain a long-term record of caribou movement patterns and seasonal distributions we will have to come up with indicators that are appropriale and economically sustainable.


Currently available are:

  • calving ground surveys
  • winter distribution from spring telemetry flights, when available

To estimate timing and location of migration routes we need to initiate the collection/synthesis of new data, possibly:

  • maintain a minimum number of satellite collars (cooperative project)
  • document the date for first and last caribou sighting in the fall and spring, from communities, outfitters, etc.
  • examine Dempster highway hunter harvest location data

Written by D. van der Wetering, March 1997.