Subsistence board alters bear hide rule

Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Federal Subsistence Board has rejected a proposal to allow bear parts to be sold by subsistence users, but the members voted to allow black bear fur to be used in handicraft items. That change aligns the federal law with a state rule adopted in 1998.

The council also took a conservative approach by rejecting a move to allow harvest of cow caribou from the Nelchina herd, and approved a novel proposal to change the mix of sheep hunters in northwestern Alaska by requiring destruction of the trophy value of the horns. There were no dissenting votes on any of those proposals.

Craig Fleener of Fort Yukon asked the board to classify both brown and black bears as furbearers, which would allow sale of bear hides, claws and other parts.

But several of the regional subsistence advisory councils opposed the idea. Some noted that under their Native cultures, it would be disrespectful to the huge animals to put them in the same classification as rabbits and lynx. Some Native traditions forbid sale of brown bear parts or favor leaving some parts of the bear in the field.

Staff biologists noted that brown bears have the slowest population growth rate of any North American animal and said that any regulations governing then should be very conservative.

State law prohibits sale of any bear parts except the fur of the black bears used in handicrafts.

The subsistence board went along with a proposal to require sheep hunters in the De Long Mountains north of Kotzebue to have the trophy value of their sheep horns destroyed, even though those horns have been used for traditional crafts.

The Northwest Arctic Council came up with the idea to balance the harvest between residents of local villages and hunters from Kotzebue, said Taylor Brelsford with the Bureau of Land Management.

''The regional council has thought this out on the local level and come up with a package to balance those interests,'' he said. The decision is intended to increase the harvest by village residents.

The proposal approved by the board also calls for the superintendent of the Western Arctic National Parklands to determine quotas as well as opening and closing dates for the sheep hunting season.

The board turned aside, at least for now, a proposal to liberalize harvest rules for the Nelchina caribou herd to allow cows as well as bulls to be taken.

The decision came after biologists reported that subsistence hunters this year took a record 433 animals -- 45 percent of a total reported harvest so far of just 958 caribou.

The subsistence take was up sharply from the 273 caribou taken by subsistence hunters a year earlier, when those hunters took 26 percent of the 1,033 animals shot.

''The harvest results suggest now is not the time to makes changes,'' said Brelsford of the BLM. ''The BLM will be working very closely with the local hunters to overcome some of the ill will.''

The population of the Nelchina herd is estimated at 33,700 caribou, still below the minimum management objective of 35,000 suggested by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and board members decided that it was no time to increase pressure on the herd.

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