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Fish and Game: Some Peninsula game stocks thriving, others declining

Posted: March 19, 2013 - 10:05pm

Before the Alaska Board of Game took up the 19 Kenai Peninsula area proposals, they were given an overview of the area’s game and its health that indicated some area game stocks were declining, while others were thriving.

On Monday, Jason Herreman, assistant area biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Homer, updated the board on various game stocks including moose, black bear, brown bear, furbearers, wolves, caribou and mountain goats, among others.

Moose concerns dominated Herreman’s presentation as seven of the board’s Peninsula proposals dealt with the population.

Game management unit 15 covers the Peninsula west from the Kenai Mountains and is divided into three areas — A, which is the northern Peninsula to the Kenai River; B, which is from the Kenai River to the Kasilof River; and C, which is from the Kasilof River south to Homer and across the bay to its southern edge.

Moose are in decline in game management area units 15A, 15B and unit 7 — the Kenai Mountains east including Cooper Landing and Hope — but stable in 15C. Herreman said the number and frequency of wildland fires needs to be increased in unit 15 to create more moose browse.

Herreman presented data that showed moose populations peak about 20 years after a large burn, but then start to decline. “Through the last 75 years going back we’ve had extensive fires in 15A a little amount in B and an average amount in C,” he said. “But if you (looked) at the last 40 years, you see there are almost no large fires that have occurred in 15A, very little in B, but decent fires in C, which is why we likely still have good moose numbers down in 15C.”

Despite the low moose numbers and poor habitat and browse, Herreman said road kill numbers are not declining.

“We peaked with our road kill back in ’89, but we are still looking at 200 to 250 animals killed per year on our roads,” he said.

Whereas road kill used to make up one-third of the harvest, it is now the majority of moose kills, he said. That is mostly due to restrictive harvest regulations and not a spike in road kill, he added.

Harvest of the “fairly sizeable” population of black bears — more than 3,000 — on the Kenai Peninsula has increased dramatically, Herreman said. It is now the area’s top-harvested animal. The majority of black bear harvests are in concentrated areas, specifically across Kachemak Bay in easy to access areas along the coast, he said.

“As I said we had fairly high and increasing harvests in the last five years or so,” he said. “This last year we had a slight decrease which is likely due to our inclement, pretty wet weather in both the spring and fall, our normal harvest period. We feel this will jump back up if we have good weather this year.”

Herreman said the rate of females harvested is on the rise and has reached 40 percent, which is the department’s management objective.

“That is something we will watch in the next several years and may be something that we’ll have to address,” he said.

Herreman addressed the Peninsula’s brown bear mortalities and said non-hunting numbers — including defense of life and property killings — had been on the rise and peaked in 2008. But since, that statistic has drastically decreased.

“(Kenai-based Fish and Game biologist) Jeff (Selinger) has been trying to liberalize our brown bear regulations and been putting forth a lot of effort with Larry Lewis, one of our technicians, on providing some outreach and education materials to some of the communities on how to live with brown bears,” Herreman said. “With these efforts we have been able to knock down the numbers of non-hunting mortalities and increase what we’ve seen for hunter harvest instead.”

Based on five years of data, Herreman gave an average harvest of furbearers in the area. He said 130 marten, 80 beavers, 15 wolverines, 45 otters and 40 wolves are trapped each year.

Wolf harvest declined in the early 1990s due to lice infestation and new regulations, he said. Recently, harvests have rebounded and the lice infestation have been getting better, he said.

“If you look, we’ve had fairly steady wolf numbers in 15A from 2010 to 2013,” he said.

Herreman said the Peninsula has four caribou herds — the Kenai Mountain, Killey River, Fox River and Kenai Lowlands. Currently, the Kenai Lowlands herd is not harvested from, but population estimates indicate that herd remains stable, which could lead the department to open a hunt there in coming years, he said.

Although the board received no proposals on mountain goats, Herreman told board members that the population has declined since the 1990s to a total between 3,000 and 4,000.

Since goat populations dropped, their harvest has decreased and harvest regulations have been beefed up, he said. Now, 11 of the 32 goat hunt areas are closed due to low numbers, he said.

“Our current concerns revolve around backcountry recreation,” he said.

Areas of easy access for snowmachines and where helicopter-aided skiing is employed have posted declining goat numbers due to factors like added stress and human-caused avalanches, Herreman said. Some areas have posted a greater than 35-percent decrease in last 10 years while others have decreased more than 50 percent in the decade.

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.

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