Compromise reached for Fairbanks hunting area

Posted: Friday, September 03, 2004

FAIRBANKS (AP) A waterfowl refuge will open to hunters a day late this year after a flap between federal and state game officials threatened a longer closure of the popular Fairbanks hunting area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had been sparring over the Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, which borders on city limits.

In a compromise, the season opening has been set for Thursday after Fish and Game received word that federal officials would defer enforcing baiting regulations this year, according to a Wednesday news release from the state agency.

Hunting is prohibited at Creamer's Field in the front viewing fields along College Road, a busy Fairbanks street. Waterfowl hunting has been allowed on several ponds in the back of the 1,900-acre refuge.

Fish and Game officials were notified by federal enforcement agents Monday that hunters at Creamer's Field could be cited for hunting illegally over bait because of farming activities the state uses to draw geese, ducks and cranes away from runways at Fairbanks International Airport and the Fort Wainwright Army Post, where they pose a hazard to aircraft.

The state grows and cuts barley for the birds to eat.

''We were blind-sided by this,'' said refuge manager John Wright. ''We're doing this (the closure) to keep hunters from being cited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.''

Fish and Game officials spent Tuesday calling dozens of hunters who had registered to hunt on the refuge to tell them the season had been postponed to Sept. 16, the date the state's feeding program ends. More than 80 hunters who registered to hunt on Creamer's Field, though not all were waterfowl hunters, Wright said.

Wednesday's compromise delayed the field's traditional Sept. 1 opening by just a day.

''We appreciate the (Fish and Wildlife Service's) recognition of our efforts to refine the way we are managing birds at the refuge, and we look forward to working with them to resolve this issue permanently,'' Fish and Game Wildlife Conservation Director Matt Robus said in a statement.

The refuge offers one of the few places near Fairbanks where duck and goose hunters without an airplane or boat can shoot birds.

''It's the best, most relied-upon spot in the Fairbanks area,'' Wright said.

Karen Boylan, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the situation was brought to the agency's attention last year when Fairbanks agent Corky Roberts was investigating a case at Creamer's Field. He determined the farm fields were an attractant ''that altered the behavior of the birds,'' Boylan said.

Birds flying to a baited field may fly lower and over areas they might not normally fly, Boylan said.

''If it makes it easier to hunt, that's the issue,'' she said.

Ducks Unlimited paid to put in a half dozen ponds in the back of the refuge in the 1980s and hunters were using a handful of natural ponds in the northern corner of the refuge long before that, Wright said. The closest hunting pond is about three-quarters of a mile from the closest farming field.

''I don't think we're setting up hunters by what we do in the front field,'' he said. ''Our purpose is to keep birds away from the airport. That's the whole purpose of the refuge.''

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