The main effect of opening the Kenai Peninsula's subsistence moose and caribou hunts to residents of its largest cities would be to cut out hunters from other areas, a critic said.
"The vast majority of the people that hunt moose on the Kenai Peninsula -- something like 86 percent -- are local residents," said Elaina Spraker, chair of the Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Coalition, which, though now dormant, formed to fight federal management of local resources and opposed classifying the entire peninsula as rural and eligible for the federal subsistence priority.
The state Department of Fish and Game limits the sport moose season to 32 days because that is what the moose population can bear, she said. The federal rules open subsistence hunting two days before the general sport season in Unit 15A, north of Skilak Lake, and 10 days before the general sport season in units 15B and 15C, which cover the rest of the western Kenai Penin-sula.
Allowing residents of the peninsula's largest cities to join federal subsistence hunts would put many more hunters in the field early, Spraker said.
"You can't keep increasing the season," she said. "If you keep the spike-fork-50-inch rule (which limits hunters to taking very small or very large bulls and puts mid-sized bulls off limits) in place, you can have a 32-day season. If you bump it to 42 days days, the population can't take the pressure. So then, you go, 'OK, what's going to get taken out?'"
Managers likely would eliminate the early opening for archers north of Skilak Lake, she said. In addition, they would close the peninsula moose hunt to the 14 percent of hunters who come from off the peninsula. Likewise, creating a peninsula subsistence caribou hunt likely would force managers to cut out hunters from other areas, she said.
"What gives me more of a right to hunt those caribou than Anchorage?" she asked. "How do you know the person in Anchorage hasn't hunted those caribou for 30 years?"
An Anchorage hunter may have more history hunting on the peninsula than a peninsula resident born in the Lower 48, Spraker said.
Rita Smagge, chief executive of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, declined to comment on the tribe's request that the Federal Subsistence Board find that all western Kenai Peninsula residents have customarily and traditionally taken subsistence moose and caribou and should qualify for the federal subsistence priority. She referred the Clarion to Rosalie Tepp, tribal chair, who could not be reached.
Michelle Steik, vice president and spokesperson for the Ninilchik Traditional Council, said the Ninilchik tribe supports the Kenaitze request.
"It's just ridiculous that they are being penalized because the big city grew up around their tribe, and the only way they're going to be allowed subsistence is to open it up for the whole peninsula," Steik said. "They're just trying to get their rights that they should have as a tribe."
There could be enough restrictions on subsistence to ensure the survival of the moose, she said.
Steik said Native hunters fear that without the federal subsistence priority, visiting trophy hunters could someday take enough moose to limit the number available for peninsula residents.
However, Spraker said there is no massive influx of hunters from off the peninsula.
"It's been proven that people who hunt hard and are skillful are going to get a moose. If you are not hunting hard and you are not skillful, you're not going to get a moose, and adding eight days to the season isn't going to fix that," Spraker said.
Congress created the rural priority to create a local preference in the Bush during times of scarcity, she said. But the Kenai Peninsula, which depends more on grocery stores than moose, is hardly rural, she said, and there are plenty of other opportunities, such as the Kenai River dipnet fishery, for locals to fill their freezers.
"I don't think it's come to the point yet where we need to cut everyone else out," Spraker said.
However, the Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Coalition has gone dormant, she said. While its board still fields questions from reporters and the public, she said, the coalition has not met for about a year.
"We've already been through the arguments kicking and screaming. The biology is there. The arguments are there," she said. "The federal government is not listening. They're blind. They're deaf, and they're going to do what they're going to do."
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