Despite declining populations of moose in three of the Kenai Peninsula’s four game management unit areas, the Alaska Board of Game voted Tuesday to loosen bull moose hunting regulations.
The board approved, 7-0, an amended proposal to change the bag limit for moose in units 7 and 15 to one bull with a spike or 50-inch antlers or antlers with four or more brow tines on one side.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game originally suggested the board adopt a 50-inch, three brow tine or spike regulation — a middle-of-the-road recommendation meant to liberalize the current restrictive 50-inch, four brow tine regulations that have been in place since 2011.
Ted Spraker, Soldotna resident and chairman of the board, said the majority of those who testified asked the board to leave in place the restrictive regulations. Spraker justified the board’s decision by saying it was a minor addition to the harvest opportunity that the moose population could support.
“What the board looked at was that there was clearly a mix, more people wanted to leave it the same, but there was a little bit of opportunity,” he said. “From my background as a biologist, I don’t want to hold a lot of bulls on this range especially if you have limited habitat. I’d rather have cows on the range producing calves and that way you get to harvest a few more moose.”
Spraker said that once a population of moose grows beyond 15 or 20 bulls per 100 cows, any excess bulls are “just taking up space that productive cows can be in.”
“They are eating up browse that a cow could be eating, and raising a calf,” he said.
Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist for the Fish and Game, said he felt the department could increase the harvest while still being fairly conservative.
“The reason we are comfortable with this is now ... we have 30 bulls per 100 cows in 15A, which is double the bottom part of our management objective,” he said. “We are at 22 bulls per 100 cows in 15C, so we think we are above our objectives so we can provide that extra opportunity.
“It has been stated that you can’t bank moose and I think that is especially true in 15A.”
Fish and Game also recommended the board limit the regular hunting season to Sept. 1-20 and shift the archery season in 15A and 15B West to August 22-29. Selinger said the later regular season — dates that were in place on the Kenai between 1975 and 1993 — would allow for more antler development. The board, however, did not take up those recommendations, leaving the current season dates in place.
Selinger said an important factor to consider when talking about the harvest regulations is that Peninsula moose are a nutritionally-stressed population.
“If you have a nutritionally-stressed population and you don’t harvest them, those animals die anyway,” he said. “If you carry more animals on that type of range, there is going to be even less food per individual, so you are going to even potentially drive that population down further.”
Moreover, Selinger said the amount of moose killed on the road is affecting the population numbers more than the annual bull harvest.
“We had a harvest of four (last year in 15A), we kill over 100 on the road,” he said. “What’s affecting the population more? Road kills or harvesting 20 or 30 bulls out of the population?”
Board member Teresa Sager Albaugh said adding the spike to harvest requirements was the “key to a measured approach.”
“It is kind of an odd situation, because we are meeting the harvest objective, we can provide additional harvest opportunity, but we haven’t reached the population objective,” she said. “So, at least in my mind, that’s the reason for a measured approach.”
Board Vice Chair Nathan Turner, of Nenana, agreed, adding that the majority of the public said they wanted to keep the current regulations in place to let the herd grow.
“But there is a point, despite the majority of the testimony, (that) we have to consider providing opportunity for harvest,” Turner said. “Some people really need the meat ... and it is important that people have the continued opportunity to hunt.”
Turner said the previous 50-inch, four brow tine measure was implemented to increase the bull-to-cow ratio and that action worked. What suffered, however, were harvest opportunities, he said.
“It was low in a couple of these areas and that was a concern, too,” he said. “You want to maintain the viability of a fully-functioning system in the hopes that the habitat will come online, but we don’t have it yet. In the meantime, we have to keep it balanced. We don’t want it to get skewed even in low densities.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.