Advisory panel can't get its act together on Anchorage moose hunts

The status of seven Anchorage-area moose hunts is still uncertain after the Anchorage Fish and Game Advisory Committee voted Tuesday to reconsider a previous vote to cancel the hunts. The committee then twice tabled motions to vote on reauthorizing the antlerless and "either-sex" hunts until its Jan. 6 meeting.

By that time at least 2,000 hunters are expected to have applied for permits for the hunts and the application period will be closed.

As people filed into Tuesday night's meeting, they picked up a fact sheet provided by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and another page with a list of reasons why the advisory committee had voted to not reauthorize antlerless moose hunts at its Nov. 18 meeting. In one of its first items of business, the committee approved the minutes of its Nov. 18 meeting.

Chairman Joel Doner later said the list was the minutes they had approved. The list had no date, no heading identifying that it was the minutes of an official meeting, and none of the other actions taken at the Nov. 18 meeting that were addressed in an earlier, unapproved version of the minutes.

One committee member, Steve Flory, dominated the meeting and questioned nearly every person who testified. Flory and several other committee members were often confrontational toward those testifying as well as Fish and Game staff. During public testimony one person told the committee that the minutes from the last meeting "sound spiteful instead of being based on science." Another told committee members, "I see a lot of emotion on the board. This should not be an emotional issue." Public testimony was overwhelmingly in favor of reauthorizing the hunts.

However, people who came to testify at the meeting were bewildered by a solid stream of complaints from committee members who disputed many of the facts provided previously by Fish and Game staff. Belatedly, after public testimony was concluded, the committee asked two local wildlife biologists to make a presentation and answer questions during which many of the committee's complaints were rebutted.

One of the most contentious claims from committee members – repeated at least a dozen times – was that the biologists had not conducted moose surveys during the past two years and refused to tell the committee how many moose were in Anchorage. Inexplicably, some of the same committee members claimed that the department had told them the Anchorage management area has 1,550 moose. Not a single member of the public questioned the obvious disconnect.


After public testimony, the biologists -- Dave Battle and Dave Saalfeld -- told the committee that 1,550 moose is indeed the population estimate and reminded committee members that they had provided the estimate and explained how the moose surveys were conducted at two separate meetings last winter. They also reminded committee members that the department had conducted moose surveys last winter, and that's what the estimate was based on. Finally, they told the committee that the lack of adequate snow coverage this winter has delayed their aerial surveys, which normally take place in late November or early December.

According to Flory, "Quite a few people don't trust your numbers." He offered to bring a retired state wildlife biologist down from Fairbanks to fly the Anchorage aerial surveys. Another member offered to fly his own plane and pay for the gas to do the moose surveys, although he has no experience conducting wildlife surveys.

Flory insisted throughout the meeting that only 26 antlerless permits would be affected by the advisory committee's veto. However, the department's fact sheet confirmed that as many as 76 permits could be canceled next fall and winter, because the veto would make it difficult to switch "either-sex" hunts to bull hunts in late December and early January when most bulls had dropped their antlers. Further, the hunts could not be re-created until fall 2018, at the earliest, because of the Alaska Board of Game's schedule.

Most committee members seemed to want to increase the number of cow moose to create more moose in Anchorage to hunt, whereas Fish and Game believed that current moose numbers were optimal for both maintaining hunting opportunity and protecting public safety. Moose-vehicle collisions were often mentioned as a public-safety issue.

Another bone of contention was the committee's complaint that it was being put on the spot every year by being asked to reauthorize antlerless moose hunts after the application period was opened for those very hunts. Flory characterized it as "being held at gunpoint." However, the permit application period opened on Nov. 1. The Board of Game publication that includes the Anchorage-area proposals has been available since August, and the committee could have voted on the reauthorization during its September or October meetings, giving hunters time to decide whether to apply or not.

Flory also challenged the department's understanding that the Anchorage advisory committee's failure to reauthorize the antlerless moose hunts can be overridden if Fish and Game advisory committees for Matanuska Valley and Susitna Valley vote in favor of reauthorizing the hunts. Flory waved a piece of paper at department representatives, claiming it was a legal opinion that left the decision solely in the hands of the Anchorage advisory committee.

After more than four hours of public and Fish and Game testimony, the committee voted 11-3 to reconsider its previous vote, which had failed to reauthorize the moose hunts. Doner noted that 13 of the 15 people who testified asked the committee to reauthorize antlerless hunts. At least two other members acknowledged that the most persuasive influence on their vote to reconsider was the preponderance of public testimony in favor of reauthorizing the hunts.

After the vote to reconsider, the public was told the issue would be tabled until the advisory committee's next meeting on Jan. 6 and that the rest of the meeting would entail consideration of hunts proposed for Southeast Alaska.

After all but two members of the public had left the room, a committee member made a motion to vote on the Anchorage-area hunts. That motion was once again tabled until Jan. 6 and the meeting adjourned at 11:40 p.m.

Unfortunately, postponing the decision until January doesn't help the thousands of hunters who would normally apply for these hunts. The application period ends on Dec. 15. If the Anchorage advisory committee vetoes antlerless hunts again and the other two advisory committees in Game Management Unit 14 don't override its vote, the hunts will not be authorized and application fees will not be refunded.

The department will allow applicants to switch their applications for Anchorage-area antlerless and "either-sex" permits to other hunts, but only until 5 p.m. on Dec. 15.

Rick Sinnott is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist. Email,

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)

Rick Sinnott

Rick Sinnott is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist. Email him: