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As Unit 13 hunting seasons wind down, it’s time to think outside the box

  • Author: John Schandelmeier
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: September 18, 2018
  • Published September 18, 2018

Caribou and moose seasons will come to a close in Unit 13 on Thursday. However, for a few caribou hunters there is still some opportunity to harvest an animal.

There will likely be a few caribou remaining for harvest in the second Tier I hunt, which closes Thursday but will likely re-open for a short time in October. The subsistence harvest of Nelchina caribou will continue until the end of the month in federally controlled areas of Unit 13.

The season for Unit 13 subsistence hunters from qualified communities in the Copper River Basin and the Delta Junction area will open again Oct. 21 and continue until the end of March. Unlike state Tier I hunters, who have been restricted to bulls only, federally qualified hunters are able to harvest either sex.

Urban hunters cry that this isn't fair. True, it isn't fair. The state of Alaska says that all residents are subsistence users.

Should fairness be the only criteria? Despite what the court system tells us, it is very obvious to anyone who hunts that subsistence is tied irrevocably to income: "He who has the most toys wins."

The dude with the big Nodwell who can cross the river and bust a new trail where the ATV can't go will be more successful. The guy with the 1981 Subaru who is restricted to the Richardson Highway won't have such good luck.

Consider that Alaska's 2018 population is 740,000. Of those, 550,000 have road access to Unit 13. The vast majority of that population does not hunt, but a corresponding percentage does.

Urban income is generally higher than rural incomes. The cost of living in large communities is lower than in rural areas. Country folks have less disposable income, and thus fewer toys.

The inequities of the state subsistence harvest was recognized and addressed by the Alaska Board of Game in 2008 with the advent of the community hunt. The 2008 hunt worked well for local hunters, who took close to 100 percent of the moose available for harvest.

Then the courts stepped in and the community hunt became an ongoing disaster that the Board of Game has struggled unsuccessfully to fix. Urban hunters now harvest almost 90 percent of the moose available for the community hunt.

The caribou harvest has been more of a success story for the subsistence community, largely because caribou cross the road system during their fall migration, making them accessible to those hunters who are restricted to road hunting.

There are not going to be any easy answers to the subsistence issue. There is no regulation that will stand a court test that will allow rural hunters a step up on urbanites.

Regulating which community gets to hunt first, and when, is not an answer to this issue. The solution may be as simple as governing access. The Delta Controlled Use Area is a good example of how a workable situation might be crafted. The Delta area allows walk-in hunters the first shot at sheep and caribou. Motorized hunters and horse packers are allowed in later.

A similar technique could be used in Unit 13. Unit 13 now has the Sourdough and Clearwater Controlled Use areas. These areas are being increasingly used by those who wish to get away from ATVs or just don't have motorized means. The Valdez/Windy Creek area is probably over-utilized by bicyclists. The upper Maclaren, in recent years, has a dozen or more canoe camps at any given time.

Walk-in areas are a great idea but they don't work for everyone. Given the present inequality of the subsistence hunt, and the difference in federal and state regulations, it seems that allowing a separate, early season for those wishing to hunt without fossil-fuel technology might be a workable solution for all.

Hunters would not be restricted by regulation, only by their choices. Hunters without multiple means of transportation would have the chance to take an animal nearer to road access. ATV folks would still retain the use of the trail systems to get a little farther back.

This is not a perfect solution, but it certainly requires some consideration. The present Board of Game does not seem receptive to getting out of the box. I believe hunters are. Very few hunters are happy with the current regulatory mess in Unit 13. It is time for sport, subsistence and personal-use groups to try to get on the same page and craft a solution.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

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