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Escalating concerns as muskox intrude into Nome city limits

As muskox migrate into Nome city limits, the community finds itself increasingly concerned about safety implications arising from their presence. Muskox have been spotted in various areas around the community, including the elementary school, between houses during early hours, and in Icy View neighborhoods. Muskox have been reported to kill or antagonize animals and continue to prevent visitors at the cemetery due to absence of fencing.

Muskox disappeared in Alaska by the beginning of the 1900s but were bred in the Bering Strait Region in the 1970s. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), the population has grown from 750 muskox in the 1970’s, to more than 4,000 to date.

This year, the bag limit in the 22C game management unit is offering 30 permits for the inner and outer Nome areas. The classified Tier II hunt increased from nine permits to 30 permits in 2023. Sarah Germain, a wildlife biologist with ADF&G, said this should help control the muskox population in town.

“Hopefully, now that there’s a cow season, folks may be encouraged to harvest a muskox in the fall time in the month of August, September, and October when there is still muskox in and around town. And we’ll have to assess and see if that does help the nuisance muskox situation.”

Germain said muskox have been coming into town since 2007 and said that the change in distribution is unclear.

“Since that time, we’ve periodically gotten calls about dog and human conflicts with muskox. I don’t really know that I’d say that it’s increased over time.”

She adds that residents have used tactics to help deter the animals off personal property, and some are more effective than others.

“Fish and Game staff have learned a lot about getting muskox out of an area through time, but it seems like you could yell, you could try to use sirens, there’s water guns. Folks have tried various things, but all those things are temporary compared to a fence.”

Sarah Swartz, a Nome resident since 2006, remembers when she first moved to Nome and recalls driving down Beam Road to view muskox, but a personal encounter six years later has changed her perspective forever.

“Back in 2012, my dog, in that short time of folding my laundry, he did get gored. And that was very, very traumatizing because this big animal who had just attacked my dog was angry and he wouldn’t move. And I couldn’t find my dogs.”

The increasing presence of muskox in town prompted Swartz to adapt her daily routines around muskox, specifically around her home. She said she goes outside every morning to make sure there is no muskox hiding, and it is necessary to safely leave her house.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game advises residents living in muskox country to clear brush around their homes to improve visibility and reduce potential encounters with muskox. Swartz says, not all Nome residents have the financial means or tools to clear brush or build a fence.

“That takes a tremendous amount of time and money because of resources and stuff that I have to use. I really don’t feel like we should be paying for it.”

Swartz said she can’t find a management plan for muskox in the Seward Peninsula, but has found plans for other arctic regions, including Greenland. She suggests that there is enough land in the region for the muskox to be moved and recommends a muskox farm like how other areas throughout the state have implemented.

“It’d be great for tourism. And it would be safer for the community and everybody else. We could actually get to a point where we could have a higher population and end up having some of those animals harvested for food and it can go to communities in need.”

Efforts to gain insight from Nome’s Police Chief, Mike Heintzelman, were unsuccessful at the time of publishing.

Germain said that ADF&G will be performing a musk ox survey around the Seward Peninsula in Spring 2024 that will assess the results of the new bag and cow limits. Limits will be reevaluated for the next hunting season based on those results.

Photo at top: Muskox group photo near Dredge 7 Inn taken by Kim Knudsen of Nome, 2021

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