Muskoxen in Kuskokwim

by Janet Bavilla

Who knows if muskoxen would have already moved into our area a long time ago if they had not been extirpated in the mid to late 1850s to 1860?
They were reintroduced into Alaska in 1930 from Eastern Greenland. That herd was transported to Nunivak Island. It grew. They eventually brought muskoxen to Seward Peninsula, Cape Thompson, Nelson Island, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Wrangel Island, and Tamimyr Peninsula in Russia.
I propose that the Kuskokwim area work together like they did with moose, geese and hopefully wood bison. There are areas on the mainland, especially Yukon Kuskokwim Delta (unit 18), that can support muskoxen. What we need is to leave them alone and allow their numbers to grow.
Most of us have seen them in recent years. They are around and have been starting to grow since the 1970s, but herd numbers have not grown much over time. WHY?
Illegal harvest is why.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game think that we could have a few thousand muskoxen living on the delta. I say we make that our goal, make that a reality.
I don’t know who we approach. Do we ask the AC, BOG, our Native Organizations, Fish and Wildlife, Fish and Game, the Commissioner, the Governor, the Congress, our Representatives, the Legislature?
Can we have a co-op with Fish and Wildlife or Fish and Game to have transplanted animals collared and monitored? Can we work together as a people and get the message out for people not to poach animals?
This would benefit a lot of people, and the herds on Nunivak and Nelson. How? Well, our mainland hunters would have a chance at hunting another animal besides moose or caribou. More of the permits for the hunts on the islands will go to their local hunters because other hunters would want to hunt closer to home. With the salmon numbers such an uncertainty, we could harvest a different animal and have another source of food. Those who weren’t able to get a moose may get a chance to have meat by getting a muskox.
This won’t work if we don’t work together to establish a herd and get the message out not to hunt them allowing them to grow for several years like the moratoriums we had in the Yukon, Goodnews and Kuskokwim rivers for moose. It’ll take several years, but eventually we will start having a legal and sustainable yearly hunt on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta.
Think about it, an additional meat source that doesn’t have to be bought in the store, available year after year for all.
Right now I’m reaching out to all the people in the villages of the Kuskokwim because if we don’t support this it will never happen. These are our lands and future. If we can be patient, this is something that is entirely possible, something that we have already done with moose, geese and wood bison. Something that could be a project we all work together on making sure it works by spreading the message not to hunt them and to report any violations we see or hear about.
We could ask the District Attorneys to start applying stiff penalties for those who go after mainland muskox. Through working together we could be able to hunt down the road for muskox, which will help for having more food, and a different type available, for our families.
Let’s start by spreading the message to leave them alone, while working to get some transplanted that are able to grow in population size.
Write to different organizations, let’s all start putting forth a voice that we’d like to establish a herd in our area for future hunts. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love to have more options available to have food on the table that wouldn’t cost as much as shipping meat from stores to our freezers.
We also need to take into account that our current state and national budget concerns will be changing our rural area. Knowing there is a chance to make life more sustainable for our future, helping us be more independent.
Let’s face it; our area has only so many jobs available in villages. Many families live off of a low income. People get help to winterize houses, get help for stove oil, electricity. With talk of taxes coming from Juneau, life might get more expensive in Alaska and users in rural Alaska have little or no extra money laying around.
With 25,000 people and 56 villages on the YK Delta we need to diversify and cooperate for our future if we are going to continue living off the land.
Alaska is an expensive area to live in, transportation is limited by season and your ability to keep a boat, 4-wheeler, and snowmachine working. Our cost of living is high. I can see from talking with people that a muskox herd is possible, if we work together and give them several years like we gave the moose population. We can eventually see a viable herd that can provide another source of food for our tables. Can we do this?!!! I think so, we did it for the moose, and gradually, the moose harvest went up. More families were able to get meat. Please think about it.
Janet Bavilla
Platinum Alaska