When the Alaska Board of Game voted in March to allow for a limited hunting season in the Skilak Loop Management Area, area hunters thought they had secured a road-accessible area perfect for hunting small game. Unfortunately, nobody cleared the idea with Uncle Sam.
Hunting in the 68-square-mile management area which is bound by Skilak Loop Road and the Sterling Highway is off limits per Kenai National Wildlife Refuge regulations.
Despite the board's action allowing for a small game hunt between Oct. 1 and March 1, refuge manager Robin West said at a public meeting on the issue last week that the area is still very much closed.
"It will be status quo," on the refuge, West said.
West explained that federal refuge management plans can't be changed overnight, and that even if he wanted to change the rules, he couldn't.
"I can't wave a hand and say these regulations are no longer in effect," West said.
Board of Game member Ted Spraker of Soldotna said the board's intention of changing the regulation was to create an area where youth hunters could have easy access to good hunting areas.
"This is an area where people want to set up some kind of program, even if it's just for youth," Spraker said.
Richard Link of Soldotna said he believes the Skilak Loop area is ideal for hunting, and pleaded with West to do whatever the manager can to get the federal rules changed.
"Open that up so we can train kids and teach them the hunting heritage," Link said.
West said the refuge would have to change its comprehensive management plan before hunting could be allowed. He explained that the area was set aside nearly two decades ago for primarily wildlife viewing use.
"We don't have any choice but to implement the management plans," he said.
The refuge currently is revisiting its management plan, and said the possibility of allowing for some small game hunting in the area could be discussed.
"I'm not going to rule out looking at some discrete options," he said.
Spraker said he believes both viewing and hunting can be done in the area with little conflict.
"I think there's room in that 68 square miles where the refuge could step up and create something," he said.
Until the plan is changed, however, hunting small game is still prohibited in the area. West said signs will be posted, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist Jeff Selinger said the department will do its part to inform people that hunting is still not allowed despite regulations that say otherwise.
"You are on a refuge, so you always have to be sure to check refuge regulations," he said. "I will let them know that right up front."
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