This year's moose harvest on the Kenai Peninsula is likely to follow the trend of the past few seasons good, but a little less than the year before according to biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
"The two main factors for the moose population being down is lack of habitat, and the numbers being killed on the roads," said area management biologist Jeff Selinger.
Selinger said the numbers of bulls among the peninsula's moose population is fairly stable, but 80 to 90 percent of moose killed in motor vehicle collisions are cows or calves meaning fewer young spike-fork bulls end up being available for hunters come opening day or have a chance to grow trophy-size racks for hunts yet to come.
Habitat also has been an issue across the peninsula as moose aren't able to get as much nutrition from maturing browse.
"The last major habitat event that was beneficial to moose was the 1969 burn," Selinger said. "There's been a few small burns, but they don't produce a whole lot for moose.
"You need a large acreage burn to have benefits for the moose population as a whole. Usually, good vegetation kicks in four to five years after the fire, and lasts 15 to 20 years."
Following that timeline, the good browse generated from the 1969 burn began to decline in quality in the mid 1990s.
Since then, the number of moose harvested has declined a little from year to year. Last year's harvest was about 550 animals just over 600 including permit hunts compared to 639 in 2002 and 666 in 2001.
Selinger said just over 3,100 hunters went afield last season, another number that has been constant over the past few seasons.
Selinger said the sheep harvest was 17 animals last year as the peninsula's population continues to recover from several harsh winters in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"It takes sheep quite a while to catch up," Selinger said. "We have a lot of pressure on a small population, and a lot (of rams) are getting shot when they're right at full curl."
Selinger said this season, hunters will be required to bring sheep horns to Fish and Game offices for sealing, which should help ensure that all sheep taken are of a full-curl, legal size, as well as help biologists gather more information on the population.
The harvest of mountain goats on the peninsula has been steady at 70 to 90 animals per season, and Selinger said the registration hunt process has been tweaked this season.
In past seasons, a drawing hunt has been followed by a registration hunt if the harvest limit was not reached during the drawing hunt. This year, the department has issued a few more drawing permits in areas where there are typically a few goats still available for harvest after the drawing hunt in an effort to avoid creating a registration hunt for one or two animals.
Caribou is done by drawing permit on the peninsula. Selinger said there will not be a Fox River hunt this season as the population of that herd appears to be decreasing.
Fish and Game issued 250 permits for the Kenai Mountains herd, but has revamped the Killey River herd hunt.
In seasons past, drawing permit winners could harvest a bull and two cows, or a three cows could be taken in a registration hunt.
However, Selinger said that when Fish and Game biologists were out collaring animals this spring, they only spotted about 100 animals, not the expected 400 or 500.
Selinger said he opted to be cautious with the hunt until he can find out more about the herd, and this year permit winners may take just one bull.
Selinger said Fish and Game had not done a survey they were just out collaring some animals but they did cover much of the herd's range and did not encounter as many animals as they expected. Some animals may have been killed in avalanches over the winter while others may have moved to a new range Selinger said he has heard reports of caribou near Exit Glacier but would proceed with caution until he knew more about the herd.
Selinger said the population of black bears is healthy across the peninsula, and added that the registration hunt for brown bears would be a wait-and-see affair, depending on the number of human-caused mortalities this summer Fish and Game has dealt with five already.
Selinger said ruffed grouse numbers remain low, spruce grouse numbers are low to moderate, and ptarmigan numbers are moderate.
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