Research Helps Sustain Culturally Important Resources for Makah Tribe

An elk calf models its radio collar after receiving it from Makah wildlife biologists and staff.
NEAH BAY-Makah Tribal member Jeremiah Johnson remembers as boy hunting with his uncle. “I started hunting when I was 12-years-old,” said Johnson. “I learned from my family members. This is traditional knowledge passed on from generation to generation.”

Learning from their ancestors and gaining intimate knowledge of their homelands is part of subsistence hunting for all Makah tribal hunters. The Makah Tribe has always relied on elk and deer to sustain them and used all parts of the animal for tools and regalia. Only elk antlers were used to make harpoon barbs for whaling. Today, deer and elk meat help feed families in the remote village of Neah Bay while all the while contributing to cultural and spiritual life.

Radio tracking collars are placed on elk calves, allowing Makah wildlife biologists and technicians to record how many survive the first year, the cause of death for those that don’t survive, and the numbers of male and females to reach adulthood in each herd.

Jeremiah Johnson is one of the technicians and he loves being a part of managing the resource that is so important to him and his tribe. “People in the village are always asking me questions about the research we’re doing and how that helps us,” said Johnson. “It’s important work.”

This is the first year of the elk calf study and the fourth year of a black-tail deer study. “We put 20 elk calf collars out this spring and we have a grant pending to continue this study for two more years,” said McCoy. As the calves mature, they are recaptured and fitted with larger collars.

The tribe already has conducted several studies about the elk populations on and around their reservation. One of the studies looked at the quantity and quality of forage and how they affect reproduction rates. Limited and poor quality forage tends to limit elk calf births to every other year.

“To make an informed decision about harvest levels, we need this information,” said McCoy, who said that long term partnerships with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and volunteers from KBH Archers in Bremerton have assisted greatly in the effort to protect and enhance wildlife resources.
“We couldn’t do this important research without the volunteers,” said McCoy. “We’re grateful for the assistance we’ve received over the years.”
For more information, contact: Rob McCoy, wildlife division manager, Makah Tribe, (360) 645-3058; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501, [email protected]