The rainy, cool weather that has set in over the past couple of weeks can only mean one thing: It must be time to go hunting.
Over the past few years, between 500 and 600 moose have been harvested by hunters on the Kenai Peninsula each year, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist Jeff Selinger expects to see similar numbers during the 2005 hunting season.
“It’s usually between 500 and 600, though lately we’ve been having more toward the 500 range,” Selinger said.
Part of the reason for the slight decline in harvest numbers has been the gradual decline in quality of moose habitat across the peninsula. In Game Management Unit 15A, an area that stretches north from the Kenai River and Skilak Lake to Point Possession and encompasses the Swanson Lakes and the Mystery Hills, Selinger said population trend count data has indicated a steady decrease in moose numbers. That area was the sight of a large wildfire in 1969.
“That was the last big habitat event, and it’s pretty much matured past the point of being highly productive moose habitat,” Selinger said.
Selinger said there has been an increase in moose population densities in GMU 15C, which encompasses most of the southern part of the Kenai Peninsula from Kasilof and Tustumena Lake to the Kenai Mountains across Kachemak Bay from Homer. Unit 15C also includes the Caribou Hills.
Selinger said the large stands of beetle-killed spruce in the region, while not as good as fire for regenerating the forest, have led to improved moose habitat.
“Even if it’s not a perfect scenario, it opens the understory,” said Selinger. “Tall grasses are coming back and in some areas where soil has been exposed, there’s birch regeneration and willow regeneration which are all good for moose.”
Harvest numbers for 2004 posted on the Fish and Game Web site bear this out. Nearly 300 moose were taken in Unit 15C while 130 were taken in 15A. Hunters also had a much greater success rate on the southern peninsula, where 22 percent harvested a moose, compared to 12 percent in Unit 15A.
Unit 15B includes the area between Skilak Lake and Tustumena Lake. Hunters experienced a 17 percent success rate in that area.
In Unit 7, which covers the eastern peninsula between Hope and Seward, hunters harvested 36 moose last season with a success rate of about 10 percent.
Selinger noted that recent wildfires on the Kenai Peninsula should begin to produce improved habitat for moose over the next few years, but added that forest regeneration would benefit a wide range of animals.
“With those burns, it’s not just producing moose habitat. A lot of other species benefit. That’s how the ecosystem here evolved,” Selinger said.
For example, Selinger said, he’s noted an increase in hare populations, a trend he expects to see from areas affected by wildfires. That should lead to an increase in the lynx population and, sometime down the road, the possibility for a lynx trapping season.
New forest growth also is beneficial to critters like grouse, which can better hide from predators amid thick undergrowth.
“Grouse appear to be increasing. I’ve seen a half-dozen clutches of spruce hens, and they’ve all had had a half-dozen or more chicks, so I’d expect to see a few more grouse around,” Selinger said.
Selinger said goat hunts on the peninsula continue to be well received, with strong interest in drawing permits and good numbers of hunters interested in registration hunts. Selinger noted the peninsula goat populations have been fairly stable, with small variations from area to area.
Selinger said Fish and Game, based on annual counts, has been able to offer between five and 10 more goat hunt permits than it had offered a few years ago.
Selinger said caribou on the Kenai Peninsula were “kind of a curious thing right now.”
“There’s something going on with the Killey River herd, and we’ve reduced hunting opportunity until we get a better handle on it,” Selinger said.
Selinger said Fish and Game issues quite a few permits to the the Kenai Mountain herd, which has a relatively stable population. Managers can do that, Selinger said, because of the low success rate: While 250 permits are issued, about 20 animals are harvested.
Selinger said the Kenai Lowlands herd has not met a minimum population number needed to open a hunt, and the Fox River hunt has been canceled.
Hunters harvest an average of between 15 and 20 sheep on the Kenai Peninsula each year, and Selinger added that hunters need to have sheep sealed at a Fish and Game office in areas with full-curl regulations.
Selinger also asked that hunters behave ethically and courteously in the field, and respect private property when out hunting.
“Be safe and have an enjoyable season,” Selinger said.
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