ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The state is sharply curtailing the number of Tier II subsistence permits it will be issuing for this year's Nelchina caribou hunt.
Southcentral Alaska's largest caribou herd is continuing to decline, so only 2,000 permits will be issued this fall. That compares with 8,000 Tier II permits issued a year ago. Upward of 17,000 hunters apply for the state permits each year.
The Nelchina herd is believed to number around 30,000 animals. That is somewhat below the 35,000- to 40,000 caribou level set by the Alaska Board of Game as a management objective.
The herd exceeded 50,000 animals in the mid-1990s. State wildlife biologists blame the decline on natural mortality from too many animals for the habitat and predation by bears and wolves.
''Our summer range is hammered,'' said Bob Tobey, Glennallen area biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game.
That translates into pregnant cow caribou going into winter in poor shape, and means fewer calves born the following spring. Those calves also are the smallest of any Interior caribou herd, making them less likely to survive, Tobey said in a news release.
The state believes the population will begin to recover once summer range conditions improve.
The Nelchina herd has been wintering in the Tok area near the Canadian border in recent years. This winter's mortality, primarily because of predation, was twice as high as normal, Tobey said.
Both the state and federal Nelchina caribou hunts are classified as subsistence even though many state permits go to Anchorage residents who tow four-wheelers to the Nelchina Basin with motor homes.
Many of the federal permits go to people who live along the Alaska highway system and can afford to buy their food.
The deadline for applying for the state Tier II subsistence permits is May 31.
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