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Fortymile harvest quota cut after low calf count

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The harvest quota for the Fortymile Caribou herd has been reduced following a poor calf crop this spring.

The cut follows a recent count of the Interior's largest caribou herd.

The harvest quota has been reduced from 1,150 to 850 after wildlife biologists confirmed what they suspected after completing a photo census count of the herd last week that the Fortymile herd, as well as several other Interior herds, suffered a significant drop in calf production.

Biologists counted 43,375 caribou, which represented only a 2 to 4 percent increase over last year's count. That compares to an increase of 8 to 10 percent the previous three years.

''It wasn't a complete failure but it was close,'' said Jeff Gross, a wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Much of the reduction came from three fall hunts that opened a week and a half ago. The fall harvest quota was reduced from 860 to 640 while the winter harvest was dropped from 290 to 210.

State and federal hunting season dates will not be changed. The season opened on Aug. 10 and will close Sept. 20 or when the quota for each hunt is reached.

Harvest quotas are set based on a projected annual growth rate of 10 percent before calving surveys and the photo census are completed. If the herd does not increase by 10 percent, the plan calls for the harvest quota to remain the same as the year before. It also dictates that the total harvest not exceed 2 to 3 percent of the population.

''What we're trying to do is keep the ball rolling so we have as much, if not more, hunter opportunity each year,'' Gross told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The poor calf crop in the Fortymile herd this spring was due to lower-than-average pregnancy rates, not increased predation, Gross said. It's a trend detected in several other Interior caribou herds this spring and has biologists scratching their heads.

Pregnancy rates in the Chisana, Delta and Nelchina herds were also down.

The normal pregnancy rate for an Interior caribou herd is 85 percent and the Fortymile herd has exceeded that in previous years. This year, the pregnancy rate was 69 percent and only 11,000 calves were born.

Caribou pregnancy rates are usually related to the quality of summer range, said Craig Gardner, a state wildlife biologist. If the range is good, pregnancy rates are high and vice versa.

Biologists are stumped because it didn't appear the summer ranges of Interior caribou herds were poor last year.

''Something happened last summer,'' Gardner said. ''Something weather-wise was not friendly to caribou.''



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