Voices of the Peninsula: Nelchina caribou issues complex

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alaska Board of Game met in Anchorage recently to consider proposals from the public, Department of Fish and Game and several conservation groups concerning hunting options for the Nelchina Caribou Herd near Glennallen. Since this is a complex issue that has been changed many times in the past, a summary and explanation of laws and Board decisions may be helpful. In our final decision, the Board adopted a proposal that encompassed a combination of several proposed ideas. First, we looked at an open general hunt where permits would be issued using the standard random draw that most hunters are accustomed to. However, our state subsistence law prohibits the Board from adopting only a drawing hunt because that type of hunt does not provide a reasonable opportunity for a subsistence hunter to draw a permit. Next, the Board considered a registration type hunt, again open to all Alaskan residents. This type of hunt would be legal under the subsistence statutes, if it were the only hunt available, but it had several obvious draw backs. As an example, in 1996 a similar unlimited registration subsistence hunt was held and 50,361 permits were issued, resulting in an early closure. Board members were concerned that relying on just an unlimited registration would make it unlikely that Fish and Game could exert the necessary control to close the hunt and avoid a huge overharvest, if a comparable number of hunters signed up. Even options of a one day registration hunt were considered but the majority of the public that testified opposed such a hunt and did not consider it to be a reasonable opportunity for subsistence. The Board also investigated the option of authorizing a Tier-II hunt but since the harvestable surplus is over the number of animals necessary to satisfy subsistence needs, the Board was prohibited by law from returning to a Tier-II hunt. Finally, the board considered a combination of options to first satisfy the state subsistence mandate and also provide an open opportunity for non-subsistence hunters. Because of legal complications relating to interpretation of Alaska's subsistence law, the last general draw hunt was held in the fall of 1987 on this caribou herd.

The proposal adopted by the Board, in a 4 to 3 vote, is comprised of a three system approach. First, a Tier-I community harvest program was re-established with a limit of up to 300 of the probably 2350 caribou available for harvest next year. Any group of 25 hunters or more can sign up for the community harvest program if they agree to meet the permit conditions, including those related to traditional practices like group hunting, sharing and community-wide meat distribution. Community harvest hunters are only allowed to hunt moose and caribou in Units 13, 11 and a small portion of Unit 12. The season is August 10 to September 20 and October 21 to March 31 or until the harvestable surplus is met. The bag limit is one caribou per person and the reporting period is five days.

The second hunt is a Tier-I individual registration hunt, open to all Alaskan residents. The season is the same as the community harvest hunt but the bag limit is one caribou per household. All members of the household must sign up for the hunt and they can only hunt moose and caribou in Unit 13, however, the registration permit can be transferred to any member of the household. The reporting period is two days.

The third hunt is a standard random drawing, open to all Alaskan residents. The season starts on August 20 and runs through September 20. Season dates for the winter hunt are the same as other hunts. Hunters are not allowed to register in either Tier-I hunt and also apply for a drawing permit in the same year. Drawing one of these non-subsistence caribou permits does not limit you to only hunting in Unit 13 for moose or caribou. Applicants will also earn a bonus point for each year they do not win a permit. The reporting period for this hunt is five days.

Applications for these and other hunts will be available November 1 through December 31, 2010 for the 2011/2012 hunting season.

Ted Spraker of Soldotna is Vice Chairman of the Alaska Board of Game.

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