Board walks middle road to benefit resource, hunters

When the Board of Game met mid-March in Kenai, members had their work cut out for them. They were set to address several local game management and hunting issues, many of them contentious and sensitive to those of us living here.

Somehow, the board managed to walk the tight rope, and successfully address local concerns about moose, bear and wolf populations. That’s no easy feat.

Public testimony given at the board meeting was clearly in favor of enhanced hunting opportunity through boosting the moose population and liberalizing the wolf and brown bear hunts.

The board took action to increase the hunting and trapping of wolves by expanding the public trapping season and authorizing the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to hire trappers to target wolves. That comes on the heels of a previous decision to authorize public permits to be issued for the aerial shooting of wolves in 15C and the shooting of wolves by department employees via helicopter in non-federally-managed portions of 15A.

Although authorized to do so, the department has not yet issued such wolf permits, or killed wolves aerially, the impression from department brass is that the option is more on the table than it has ever been.

The board also loosened brown bear hunting regulations by significantly increasing the season for a registration hunt from the previous drawing system. The board also established a baiting season for bears from April 1 to May 31 — starting in 2014 — where there was previously none. That season follows the same rules as black bear baiting rules, but stipulates hunters must also salvage all edible meat, including rib and neck meat.

Those two actions should help to stem the decline in the local moose population and another board action — to add a bull with a spike on at least one side to the current 50-inch or four brow tine bull moose hunt — should increase hunting opportunity. Moreover, as board chairman Ted Spraker said, it should keep productive cows on the range while still keeping bull numbers within appropriate ratios.

However, while it appears the Board of Game did its job to address hunting concerns and do what it could through regulation to better manage moose populations, something needs to be done about moose habitat.

There have been very few large fires in the past four decades in game management unit 15A and it has been proven that moose populations peak 20 years after large burns. State and federal land managers and wildlife officials should collaborate to find ways of bettering moose habitat through targeted fires, management and other means.

In short: We’re grateful the Board of Game decided to come to Kenai for the first time in decades and that, while taking up Peninsula issues, they were able to walk a sensitive middle ground that should benefit both the resource and hunters.

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