At Midnite Sun Ranch, Youth Summit Aims to Revitalize Reindeer Herding with a New Generation
Participants in this year’s Reindeer Youth Summit returned to their respective communities on Tuesday, after spending three days learning and working with reindeer at the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch in Nome.
Bruce Davis and his wife Ann, who own and operate the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch, are two of the few active reindeer herders left on the Seward Peninsula. Davis says they hosted more than 30 kids from Steven’s Village, Anchorage, Nome, and elsewhere, for their second annual Reindeer Youth summit in the hopes of inspiring the herders of the future:
“What we’re doing is educating the community, and the fastest way to do that is through the kids and get them involved in reindeer herding, letting them know that there’s reindeer here on the Seward Peninsula, and it’s a possible way to make a living. The Seward Peninsula is probably one of the richest areas for feed for reindeer, so it’s a great place to grow or to have a ranch.”
In addition to helping the reindeer graze, and learning how to tie lead ropes, the kids helped Davis mark and tag the reindeer to determine how many males, females, and fawns are in the herd.
“Like I think yesterday, we processed 59 through the corral, and that’s really low. In years past, it’s been 5,000 to 6,000, and then I’ve heard numbers as high as 10,000,” Davis reiterated, “but yeah, we are at an all-time low.”
As Davis walks through the corral to check on his herd, which is currently very low in number, he explains that despite having fewer animals, his fawns are multiplying:
“I’ve had Diana Adams give me a hand. I’ve had Chris Shannon help me out. And what we’ve been doing is getting the reindeer closer to our corral, then we’re doing supplemental feeding to get them to stay here. This year, what we did is we had this group fawn here at the corral. So I think yesterday we had 16 fawns, which is really a vast improvement in our fawn crop.”
People like Diana Adams, Chris Shannon, and Charlie Lean, who do some free labor on the ranch, are reportedly compensated with good times and lots of coffee. Rosalie Debenham, the Fish and Wildlife Biologist for the Alaska region, has also contributed to the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch, but in a more logistical way, she explains:
“But I also work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and we were able to secure grant money for this project, and that’s part of how this came together. There were a lot of people involved; obviously, the Davises and their ranch are very keen on helping revitalize the reindeer industry on the Seward Peninsula. But there was also Greg Finstad from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He had a very key role to play in this, and to help develop it and the curriculum.”
Debenham came to the summit to learn as much about reindeer and the area as she could. From what she’s seen at Midnite Sun, Debenham is excited about the future of reindeer herding in Alaska:
“There’s a lot that could happen, but it seems like you do have support from the agencies now, and you do have an interest from the next generation as well… Then also with the high latitude range management classes, there’s been a whole younger cohort of folks that have been trained in reindeer husbandry, and also in those courses, they learn how to create a business management plan, run a business.”
Debenham believes that reindeer herding throughout the state is at a very critical point, where it could really take off as an industry. Davis hopes some of the youth from the Summit will be the ones to bolster reindeer herding and possibly take over his ranch someday.
If that happens, Davis jokingly says he plans on getting into another animal-related industry, like fishing.