The rivers are beginning to run ice. Snow has been creeping gradually down the mountainside. The forecast for this coming week is snow at the valley floor in much of the Alaska Range. Caribou are beginning to move. Ptarmigan are mostly white.
This happens every year; why am I always surprised?
Somehow, it just never sinks in. I am caught with “stuff” laying here and there that will disappear under the snow until spring. That has been happening since I was a kid. Sooo — why should it surprise me when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game decides to reinvent the wheel?
ADF&G is proposing a cow hunt for the coming year in Sub-units A and E of Game Management Unit 13, a huge area that stretches from Denali State Park to Chitina and from the Chickaloon Bridge on the Glenn Highway to north of Paxson on the Richardson Highway.
The reasoning is the moose population in these two sub-units has reached the desired goal.
The bull/cow ratio is 25 bulls per 100 cows in 13E. According to Fish and Game, that does not leave room for the harvest of any additional bull moose. Sub-unit 13A is in a similar situation.
Cow hunts are a valuable management tool, and Unit 13 is in an Intensive Management Area, which means moose and caribou are to be managed for optimum harvest. That may not necessarily be in the best overall interests of the ecosystem, but big game is managed for hunters (human hunters).
The Department of Fish and Game would like the Board of Game to authorize a harvest of up to 200 cow moose in each of these sub-units. In their justifications, they state that if the hunt is not authorized, “the intensive management program and objectives will need to be restructured to maintain the moose population within a population size range that does not result in nutritional limitations for the moose.”
In other words, some other controls may be necessary.
The control that is not stated, but implied, is predator control. Aerial wolf control would be the only real option as the brown bear season is already as liberal as it can be.
Should the Board of Game authorize Fish and Game to implement the cow hunt, that does not necessarily rule out the predator-control option, which is already firmly established. Implementation is controlled by ADF&G biologists when deemed necessary.
Under the current proposals suggested by Fish and Game, a harvest of up to 200 cows in each sub-unit would be authorized for the coming season. A surface look at the moose population in these sub-units and the present bull/cow ratio make both of these proposed cow hunts reasonable.
But no matter which side of this proposal one stands on, a hard look at all of the possible variables is necessary.
What if we have a tough winter? Calves and bull moose are the most vulnerable. Calves have a tough time dealing with deep snow, and bulls have depleted fat supplies because the rut. Both of these issues could upset the bull/cow ratio.
Pregnant cows and cows with calves are more vulnerable in spring. They become easier prey for predators and more susceptible to winter kill because of heavy snows.
It seems like it could be a toss-up.
The ADF&G proposal throws one other variable in the mix. The antler-less hunts are to be implemented Oct. 1-31 and March 1-31. The first season seems to make sense from a biological standpoint. Bulls still have antlers and cows may have just been impregnated.
The spring season does not make sense. Pregnant cows that have made it until the end of March have a very good chance of surviving the remaining month of snow. Cows with calves are not legal animals but since bulls are antler-less by March, they are. The bull/cow ratio could easily see further reduction with a spring hunt.
Revisiting the October hunt, what about hunter access? Some years there is enough snow for snowmachines and sometimes not. ATV access could also be restrictive in October. There may be no snow in the lowlands but too much snow and overflow to reach off-the-highway moose deeper in the units.
Not so simple now, is it? There are additional possibilities to consider. What if the access is excellent and snowmobiles can get where ever they please? This proposal is a general hunt proposal, which could very well mean several thousands of hunters out on opening weekend. Should we discuss hunt quality also?
We need to be cautious when re-inventing the wheel. Our new conception may not turn so well. Before this cow hunt is implemented we need to take a really hard look. Public and Advisory Committee input needs to be seriously considered by the Board of Game, something they have not done much of in recent years.
Hunters: make your voices heard at the spring Board of Game meeting when these proposals are to be heard. If this is a “virtual” meeting done by teleconference, it will be difficult. However, these animals belong to all Alaska residents, and we have the absolute right to share in their projected utilization.
John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest sled dog race.
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