FAIRBANKS (AP) -- If you want to see some caribou, then take a drive down the Richardson Highway to Donnelly Dome, about 120 miles south of Fairbanks.
Just make sure you don't find yourself staring into the eyes of a 400-pound bull on the hood of your car.
The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is warning motorists to keep an eye out for caribou on a three-mile stretch of highway across Donnelly Flats after one of the animals was killed in a collision with a vehicle earlier this week.
Alaska State Troopers received the report of a dead caribou on the road at Mile 250 of the Richardson Highway on Wednesday.
There are about 700 caribou -- almost a quarter of the Delta Caribou Herd -- roaming the Donnelly Flats region about 20 miles south of Delta, according to state wildlife biologist Pat Valkenburg with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Part of the Delta herd has been wintering around Donnelly Flats for several years now, said Valkenburg, who tracks the herd for Fish and Game.
''It is a little bit unusual but it's been going on five years,'' he said. ''I think what's happening is they're a little bit short of winter range and they're wandering around looking for more.
''It's good caribou habitat,'' Valkenburg said. ''It's nice and windblown and it has quite a few lichens.''
DOT uses salt on the stretch of highway across the Donnelly Flats in the winter, which attracts moose and caribou to the road, said state wildlife biologist Steve DuBois with Fish and Game at Delta Junction.
''It's not uncommon for moose to be on the road (licking salt) through that Donnelly Flats to Donnelly Dome area,'' DuBois said.
While it may be expanding its range, the size of the Delta herd itself is shrinking. The population stands at about 3,200 animals, less than a third of what it was in 1990 when it reached a high of 10,700.
With no wolf control program since 1995, predation has taken a toll on the herd, which is open to hunting by drawing permit only. This year was particularly bad for the herd, Valkenburg said. Only 10 calves per 100 cows survived, half of what is needed to keep the herd's size stable.
''It's the same old story, lack of calf survival,'' Valkenburg said.
Donnelly Flats represents the extreme eastern boundary of the herd's range. The herd spends most of its time in the foothills of the Alaska Range in Game Management Unit 20A.
The herd's main wintering area is in the lower Yanert River drainage in the Alaska Range, but the last five winters some animals have crossed the Delta River and infiltrated the Donnelly Flats.
This year, some of the herd crossed the Alaska Range and traveled south into the Upper Nenana and Susitna rivers and Monahan Flat as well.
The caribou will spend the entire winter in the area, Valkenburg said, before heading back to its summer range in the spring.
The Delta herd has been known to wander. In 1992, following a freak snowstorm on Sept. 11 that dumped one-and-a half feet of snow on the Interior, small groups of caribou from the herd were seen around Fairbanks.
While colliding with a caribou is not as life-threatening as hitting a moose, it poses a serious risk. An average adult male caribou weighs about 400 pounds and an adult female is about 275 pounds.
''It probably wouldn't kill you but it would do substantial damage to your car,'' Valkenburg said.
The meat from the caribou that was killed earlier this week was salvaged by a local resident in Delta, troopers said.
(Distributed by The Associated Press)
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