The seven-member Alaska Board of Game, which met last week in Kotzebue, extended the moose hunting season on Alaska's North Slope, convinced that the ungulate population there was healthy and growing.
However, an amendment was added to make sure that if moose numbers drop significantly in Game Management Unit 26A during the hunt, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game can step in and shut it down. The amended proposal carried by a 5-2 vote at a meeting to consider hunting and trapping proposals in the Nome, Bethel, Barrow and Kotzebue regions.
The extended season now runs Aug. 1 to Sept. 30. Hunters in the region have long requested the extension to the end of September to allow for cooler temperatures, which offers better conditions in which to care for the meat. The moose harvest is relatively low -- just nine moose were taken in the area in 2012 and five the year before. While the moose population in Unit 26A declined significantly between 2008 and 2011, it has increased as of late. In the 2012, the bull-cow ratio in the unit was 68 bulls to 100 cows, “suggesting that small increases in the harvest of bulls are unlikely to interfere with population growth,” read a comment by Fish and Game to the proposal.
Board of Game member Bob Mumford was one of two members against the proposal. “At this point we should err on the side of caution,” he said.
But other members were confident with department’s promise to watch the population closely and adjust accordingly. “The department has made me feel comfortable that they feel comfortable,” said member Nate Turner.
Board of Game Chairman Ted Spraker added that there is reason to be cautious, but he thinks bulking up the season by two weeks will not affect the population adversely.
The board also voted unanimously in favor of another proposal that would do away with hunting limits for coyote in Unit 26A. Most other regions already have no bag limit and no closed season on coyote. There was no testimony against the proposal, though member Mumford did advise hunters to be cautious about getting coyotes and wolves confused when hunting. The same proposal for Unit 23, the Kotzebue area, passed unanimously.
While there were many proposals brought forward and much discussion, one recommendation that failed unanimously was the proposed sale of caribou antler in Unit 23. Current regulations say “a person may not purchase, sell, advertise or otherwise offer for sale, barter, advertise for barter or otherwise offer for barter the antler of a caribou taken in Unit 23, unless the antler is a naturally shed antler or has been made into an article of handicraft.”
The concern surrounding proposition 29, which would have allowed for the sale of Unit 23 caribou antlers once they had been removed from the skull, was that some people might start taking caribou for their antlers and wasting the rest of the animal. Plus, the biggest collection of caribou in the region, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, has been declining at a rate of 4 to 6 percent annually since 2003, as has its bull-cow ratio. “If antler sales result in additional harvest of bulls, reduction in seasons or bag limits may become necessary to avoid skewing the sex ratio of the Western Arctic Herd,” said biologist Jim Dau.
The proposal failed by a vote of 0-7.
“We have some concerns about the current health of the Western Arctic Herd right now,” said board member and vice chair Turner. “I don’t think someone would shoot a caribou just for its antlers, but it could happen. It’s time to be conservative.”
For more information on the Board of Game meetings and a full list of proposals visit adfg.alaska.gov.
This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.