FAIRBANKS -- State game managers have put emergency restrictions in place for the Fortymile caribou winter hunting season that opens Saturday.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said Wednesday it was setting up a no-hunting corridor near a stretch of the Steese Highway where a couple hundred caribou are camped near Eagle Summit about 100 miles north of Fairbanks. Thousands more of the animals are lingering within a few miles of the road.
''People will have to be at least one mile off the Steese Highway to shoot a caribou,'' said Fish and Game biologist Pat Valkenburg.
The hunt also will be limited to just two days, Saturday and Sunday, to ensure that hunters don't kill too many caribou. The quota for the winter Fortymile caribou hunt is 315 caribou.
Valkenburg said the area will be reopened if a substantial part of the quota remains.
Fish and Game is simply trying to prevent a hunting free-for-all along the highway, Valkenburg said.
''There are probably 200 caribou around Eagle Summit that are right on the road and that would not be a pleasant hunting situation,'' Valkenburg told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''People would be competing with each other for those caribou.''
The restrictions do not affect the season for caribou in the White Mountains west of Preacher Creek and American Creek, nor do they affect hunting for Fortymile caribou in Game Management Unit 20E.
But it is feasible, if hunters turn out in large numbers, that the entire winter quota could be filled during the two-day season along the Steese Highway, forcing the closure of the season in GMU 20E.
''If all the quota ends up being taken on the Steese Highway there's nothing we can do about that,'' Valkenburg said.
The emergency restrictions apply only to the state hunt and not the federal subsistence hunt, which opened Nov. 1.
Normally, most of the Fortymile herd has migrated east out of the Birch Creek drainage by now and taken up residence in the upper Goodpaster and upper Salcha river drainages. The past two years, however, a good chunk of the herd has remained in the Birch Creek and Preacher Creek drainages.
The reason for the expansion is that the Fortymile herd is growing, Valkenburg said. The herd, the largest in the Interior, has increased from about 22,000 caribou in 1995 to the current population of almost 40,000.
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