The public has until Friday to submit written testimony on a proposal that will give youth ages 16 and younger the chance to hunt for grouse and hare in the Skilak Loop Wildlife Management Area this November. The proposal, which was submitted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, will be considered at the Board of Game meeting in Anchorage on Oct. 4.
"(Fish and Game) put in an emergency order to have the sessions the weekends from Nov. 1 through Dec. 1, including the Friday following Thanksgiving, for youth hunting only," said Jeff Selinger, a wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish and Game. "The meeting on the fourth is just to put that in permanent language."
Under the emergency regulation youth, accompanied by a licensed hunter 18 years or older, will be able to hunt with both firearms and bow and arrows every weekend during the month of November including the Friday after Thanksgiving, Selinger said.
Selinger said Fish and Game has spent the last two years trying to open the Skilak Loop area to hunting only to have each proposal come into conflict with federal regulations. The state didn't see a reason not to permit small game hunting in the area, and there was no public testimony opposing it, but because the wildlife management plan for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was different than the state's, a hunting proposal didn't go through. Selinger doesn't expect the proposal to change much after it comes out of next month's meeting, but because the hunting proposal has been changed so much, he said anything could happen.
"Once it's open at a board meeting, anything can happen," he said, adding that public testimony won't be taken at the meeting, but written testimony is accepted. "As far as I know, the intent for this is to solidify the regulation and put it in permanent language."
Robin West, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge manager, said the Board of Game proposed to open the Skilak Loop area to a broader hunt using firearms for small game and fur-bearing animals. At the time, he said, the proposal was inconsistent with the old management plan and nothing was decided upon until a new plan was made.
The revised wildlife management plan includes the youth hunt, West said, as well as revised hiking trails and migration corridors.
"There have been no changes to the regulations other than the new youth hunt," he said. "The difference is they can use .22 rim fire guns and shotguns where the rest of the hunting opportunity is archery only. A joint effort would be the best way to explain how the hunt came about."
The only other opportunity for hunting in the Skilak Loop area is a drawing hunt for moose cows or spike-fork bull moose that can be opened by Fish and Game, West said. Approximately 98 percent of the wildlife refuge outside the Skilak area is open for grouse hunting from Aug. 10 through the end of March and snowshoe hares can be hunted anytime, he said.
"I think it may provide new opportunities for kids to get out and hunt," West said.
Selinger hopes the Board of Game will be able to agree on a resolution that coincides with the refuge's wildlife management plan.
"We've been dealing (with this proposal) since 2005, it would be nice just to get it settled and get a regulation that's acceptable to both the Fish and Wildlife Service and to the state," he said.
Public testimony can be mailed to Board Support at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, P.O. Box 115526, Juneau, AK 99811. Fish and Game's proposal can be viewed online at www.boards.adfg.state.ak.us/gameinfo/meetinfo/gcal.php.
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at email@example.com.
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