A proposal to open subsistence moose and caribou hunts for all rural Kenai Peninsula residents recently won approval from the Southcentral Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council.
The Kenaitze Indian Tribe originally asked the Federal Subsistence Board to find that rural residents of the western Kenai Peninsula customarily and traditionally have hunted moose and caribou throughout the peninsula, in game management units 16A and 16B in northwest Cook Inlet and in units 9A and 9B near Kamishak Bay.
But a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official who analyzed the proposal realized that residents of the Seward area use the same resources, said Ann Wilkinson, Southcentral regional coordinator for the agency's Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage. So, she said, Fish and Wildlife recommended including all rural Kenai Peninsula residents in the finding.
The Federal Subsistence Board is to consider subsistence hunting proposals at its May 8-10 meetings in Anchorage. The regional advisory council, which advises the board, considered the Kenaitze proposal at a meeting last week in Copper Center. Emil Dolchok was one of several Kenaitzes who testified.
"I was fighting to see if we can't keep this hunting from going all the way to sport hunting and trophy hunters, like sport fishermen have taken away our king salmon," he said.
"If we don't do anything with the hunting now, sport hunters will eventually take that over."
Only communities the board recognizes as rural are eligible for federal subsistence, and until last year, the only peninsula communities recognized as rural were Cooper Landing, Ninilchik, Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek.
Last May, the board found that the entire Kenai Peninsula was rural. However, it agreed to reconsider after requests from the Cooper Landing Fish and Game Advisory Committee and from Safari Club International of Herdon, Va., its Alaska chapter, its Kenai Peninsula chapter and the Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Council.
Two things must happen before federal subsistence hunters can take moose and caribou. First, the Federal Subsistence Board must determine customary and traditional use. Hence, the Kenaitze request. Second, it must write the rules to create an actual hunt.
On the western Kenai Peninsula, the board already has created subsistence moose hunts for residents of Ninilchik, Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek. If it upholds the Kenai Peninsula rural determination and finds that all peninsula residents traditionally have hunted subsistence moose, that could open the door for all peninsula residents to participate in the existing moose hunts.
However, the board has not yet created Kenai Peninsula subsistence caribou hunts.
Dan LaPlant, wildlife liaison for the Office of Subsistence Management, said the only oral testimony on the Kenaitze proposal in Copper Center came from members of the Kenaitze tribe.
The regional council also received a letter supporting the proposal from Wilbur Joe of the Chitna Traditional Village Council. A letter from Randolph Alvarez on behalf of the state's Lake Iliamna Fish and Game Advisory Committee opposed it, arguing that flying in to hunt western Cook Inlet moose and caribou is hardly traditional.
A letter from Bill Stockwell of the Cooper Landing Fish and Game Advisory Committee opposed the Kenaitze proposal and favored deferring action on it until the board reconsiders the Kenai rural determination. LaPlant said the board has promised to reconsider by June and could do so during the May meeting.
The regional council recommended finding that all rural Kenai Peninsula residents traditionally have hunted moose and caribou in game units 7 and 15 on the peninsula and in units 16G and 9A in western Cook Inlet.
However, it did not recommend a customary and traditional finding for Unit 16A, which covers drainages from Skwentna to Trapper Creek, or in Unit 9B, which covers the areas around lakes Clark and Iliamna.
"They felt that 16A and 9B were going too far," LaPlant said.
"The staff recommendation was just for units 7 and 15. We felt there wasn't enough data on past harvest to give customary and traditional use across Cook Inlet. They took a position in the middle."
The regional council also approved a proposal to give subsistence moose hunters a 10-day head start on sport hunters in most of Unit 15A, the Kenai Peninsula north of the Kenai River and Skilak Lake. A federal court recently ruled that the two-day head start now on the books is too little.
The council also approved a proposal to find customary and traditional use for peninsula residents of grouse and ptarmigan in units 7 and 15. Federal subsistence rules now set bag and possession limits of 15 per day and 30 in possession for grouse, and 20 per day and 40 in possession for ptarmigan, LaPlant said.
The proposal asks the Federal Subsistence Board to cut the federal limits to match state sport hunting limits for the area, which for both grouse and ptarmigan are 10 per day and 20 in possession.
LaPlant said it appears on the peninsula that increased hunting and a lack of mature white spruce have reduced the grouse population and increased hunter access with snowmachines and ATVs has reduced the ptarmigan population.
However, he said, the regional council recommended keeping the higher limits, because hunters now cannot find enough grouse and ptarmigan to take the state limits, so matching them would accomplish nothing.
The council wanted to keep higher limits for subsistence hunters in case grouse and ptarmigan populations rebound, he said.
The Federal Subsistence Board will have the final say at its May meeting.
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