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Caribou Hills fire makes moose season a wild card

Let the hunt begin

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2007

 

  Last year, 3,056 hunters killed 416 moose on the Kenai Peninsula, according to Jeff Selinger of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Last year, 3,056 hunters killed 416 moose on the Kenai Peninsula, according to Jeff Selinger of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Time to start sighting in the rifles and stocking up on ammo, because hunting season on the Kenai Peninsula is fast approaching. Bow hunters can let arrows fly at moose today, while rifle hunters get to squeeze the trigger on Aug. 20. Wildlife managers are predicting the 2007 hunting season should be productive for both.

"I'd expect success rates to be comparable to last year's, with only one wild card," said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The wild card he was referring to is Game Management Unit 15C, a bulk of which includes the Caribou Hills area where more than 55,000 acres burned in a wildfire this summer. Unit 15C also includes the Homer area and the Kenai Mountains south of Kachemak Bay

"We don't know how that fire dispersed the moose," Selinger said, but he added there are several possibilities that could be good or bad for hunters.

He said moose could be more concentrated in the same area and with better visibility to sight them due to the lack of leaves and needles on the trees because of the burn, or charred tree stumps blown down in windstorms that could hamper hunters' movements and make if difficult to cover much ground and limiting the harvest. It's also possible the moose may have dispersed into surrounding areas unaffected by the fire.

"They could have moved farther back into the refuge where not many people go. We just don't know yet," Selinger said.

While what 15C might produce in the way of harvest remains unknown, Selinger said GMU 15A which roughly runs from the Kenai River north to Point Possession, and 15B which roughly runs from the Kenai River south to the north shore of Tustumena Lake, should be relatively on par with last year, as should GMU 7 which encompasses most of the eastern Kenai Peninsula.

"I'd expect those areas to stay the same, with 15A maybe seeing slightly lower success rates. We're just not seeing as many moose coming out of 15A as we used to," Selinger said.

He explained there are multiple factors playing into this slight decline, with at least one of these being the vegetation explosion that resulted after burns in this area in 1947 and again in 1969. Almost immediately after the fires, early leafy hardwood growth provided good browse for moose, but now these are mostly dense stands of tall trees.

Selinger said, in all areas of the peninsula, the total number of hunters last year 3,056, bagged 416 moose, which is down from the 537 harvested in 2005.

"The success rate was 13.6 percent, so it was down a little bit ... 10 to 15 percent is what it's been running at," he said.

Selinger expected the harvest this year to be around 500 animals again.

Much like moose, caribou harvests should also be similar to years past, Selinger said.

There are four caribou herds on the peninsula, but only two can be hunted (by permit drawing) the Kenai Mountain herd and the Killey River herd, which have an estimated 300-350 and 300-400 caribou, respectively.

"Last year, for the Kenai Mountain herd there were 250 permits issued and 97 people who reported actually hunting. Of these 17 were successful. For the 25 bull-only permits issued for the Killey River herd, six people reported harvesting animals, so, in all, there were 23 successful caribou hunters," he said.

This represents a decrease in one area and an increase in the other from the year before, since in 2005, 20 animals were harvested from the Kenai Mountain herd, while only three were harvested in the Killey River area.

As far as bagging bruins, Selinger said black bear hunters should expect a good season.

"Last year we had a total of 421 black bears harvested, the bulk of which came in from unit 15C where people use boats and airplanes as transportation to hunt on the south sides of Kachemak Bay," he said.

This 421 black bears is slightly fewer than the 437 harvested in 2005, but is still higher than the 350 to 400 bears harvested annually the last few years.

Also, while it is not yet official, Selinger said hunters will likely not be having a fall brown bear season.

"I haven't written the Emergency Order yet, but there is a high probability the fall portion of the brown bear hunt will be cancelled, due to the number of females bears that have died as a result of human-caused mortalities," he said.

The brown bear hunt is managed for a three-year average of human-caused mortalities that does not exceed 20 total bears, nor exceed eight female bears older than one year. This year alone, Selinger said 15 brown bears have died as a result of human-caused mortalities, of which 10 were females older than one year.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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