The Alaska Board of Game last Friday released its proposed intensive management plans for moose populations that include aerial wolf control for game Unit 15A, on the upper Kenai Peninsula, and Unit 15C on the lower peninsula north of Kachemak Bay. Presented as proposals on the Nov. 11-14 Arctic Region Board of Game meeting in Barrow, Proposal 35 is the intensive management plan for Unit 15A and Proposal 36 is the plan for Unit 15C. The board could approve, modify, reject or table the plans.
The board had previously listed the proposals in its agenda as placeholder items, fulfilling the legal notice requirements. The plans released last week, called “125 plans” for the subsection of the Alaska Administrative Code that refers to intensive management plans, provide more detail and put into regulation how the plan would work.
Both plans would:
• Authorize methods of taking wolves, including hunting and trapping;
• Authorize the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to issue public aerial shooting permits and land and shoot permits;
• Authorize the commissioner to allow agents of the state or department employees to do aerial, land and shoot, or ground shooting of wolves; and
• Allow aerial wolf control for five years from January 2012 to January 2017.
Unit 15A and 15C have different issues regarding moose population. In 15A, north of Tustumena Lake, the 125 Plan notes the main reason for low moose populations is declining habitat. About 80 percent of wUnit 15A is federal land in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, where aerial wolf hunting is prohibited. The lack of a fire more than 50,000 acres since 1940 has allowed trees and shrubs not suitable for moose to grow.
In Unit 15C, the 125 plan notes that “the moose population is currently within intensive management objectives for population size,” that is, an estimated 2,079 moose for 2010, with an average yearly harvest of 275 moose from 2001-2010. Until this year, the moose harvest has been within intensive management objectives.
This year, because of greater restrictions on bull hunts, the harvest was 29 cows and 12 bulls. ADF&G adopted those regulations because of conservation concerns over low bull-cow ratios. The bull-cow moose ratio is below harvest objectives, said Tony Kavalok, assistant director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, Anchorage.
“The intensive management plan is going to address that,” Kavalok said.
The 125 plans also establish doing wolf surveys. One research project is to radio collar breeding cows next spring and track them and spring calves to assess calf survival rates and how calves died.
That’s similar to a study on the effect of predators on moose on the Kenai done in 1977-78 by Albert Franzmann, Charles Schwartz and Rolf Peterson. A 1980 report by those biologists showed 34 percent of the calves died had been killed by black bears, with 6 percent killed by brown bears and 6 percent killed by wolves.
“I expect we’ll find bears will be significant predators,” Kavalok said.
If approved by the Board of Game, wolf control would start in January 2012 before the wolf and predator studies are done. Kavalok said the Board of Game didn’t want to delay aerial wolf control because of public pressure to address declining moose populations.
Wolf control is easy to put in place, and because wolves are resilient, it doesn’t carry any inherent risk to the wolf population, he said.
“It sends a message to the public that we are serious about turning this around and we will do something,” Kavalok said. “Meanwhile, stand by and wait and see if bears are playing a role in this.”
Kavalok said that based on his experience with intensive management in Unit 16 across Cook Inlet, aerial wolf control will have a limited effect on the public and wilderness activity. He noted that Unit 16 includes the Iditarod Trail. Wolf control was suspended during the first two weeks of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, he said.
“Given what we’ve seen there, I just don’t think it’s going to be a big deal,” Kavalok said.
Still to be released are two other components of intensive game management, a Feasibility Assessment and an Operations Plan. Those documents are being reviewed now by ADF&G staff and should be available in time for the Board of Game meeting, if not sooner.
Written comments on the proposals made by 5 p.m. Oct. 28 will be included in board member workbooks. Comments received after that will still be accepted up to the start of the meeting on Nov. 11. Late comments can be faxed. Include the proposal number. The Unit 15A Kenai area plan is Proposal 35 and the Unit 15C lower peninsula plan is Proposal 36 for the Unit 15C. Send comments to: Board of Game Comments, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Boards Support Section, P.O. Box 115526, Juneau AK 99811-5526, fax (907) 465-6094. Visit www.boardofgame.adfg.alaska.gov for more information. Copies of the two 125 plans are available at www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=gameboard.meetinginfo.