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Alaska Game Board to Air Nelchina Hunt Proposals

Hearing: Testimony invited regarding plan for subsistence harvest area

Joel Gay / Anchorage Daily News / June 3, 2005

Sportsmen can weigh in on the fate of the popular and controversial Nelchina caribou hunt at a special meeting of the Alaska Board of Game this weekend in Anchorage.

The board will take public testimony on proposed changes to the hunt beginning Saturday morning at the Hotel Captain Cook, then consider several radical revisions to subsistence hunting regulations in the area.
The proposal most likely to win board approval would create a new subsistence harvest area in the Nelchina basin north and east of Anchorage, and provide caribou and moose permits for any Alaska hunter. It would be the first time in 15 years the highway-accessible hunt had such unlimited access.

But to limit participation and make the new hunt adhere more closely to popular ideas of subsistence, those who signed up couldn't hunt or trap anywhere else in Alaska that year. They would have to salvage virtually every ounce of meat on animals they shot. The board will also consider banning the use of airplanes, all-terrain vehicles and perhaps even motor homes.

Board member Ted Spraker of Soldotna said that it should be an interesting meeting and that he isn't certain of its outcome. He and other board members have visited the communities most affected by the proposed changes, and they have heard support and opposition.

"But I think most opposition is from people who have not taken a lot of time to look at the proposal," the former state biologist said. "I think once they really look at it, if they're subsistence hunters they see it benefits them."

Nelchina once was considered the breadbasket of Alaska, supplying caribou and moose to local hunters as well as sportsmen from Anchorage, the Mat-Su and Fairbanks. As the number of hunters outstripped the available prey, it became a subsistence-only hunt, technically known as Tier II. But because all Alaskans are now eligible for subsistence, the state devised a complicated system to determine who would get the limited number of permits.

Over time, the Tier II application process has become "a liar's contest," board member Ron Somerville said earlier this year.

The prime proposal under consideration was crafted by a committee of Game Board members, sportsmen and subsistence advocates. It would replace the Tier II hunt and create a new system known as super-exclusive registration.

A family that chose to hunt in the newly formed Copper River/Cantwell Subsistence Community Harvest Area would automatically get a caribou and moose permit. Any Alaskan would qualify. Benefits would include longer seasons and more lenient bag limits.

But the key to its success, Spraker said, is to keep participation low. If everyone signed up, managers would have the same problem they have now -- too many hunters and too few game animals.

The proposal would prohibit Nelchina subsistence hunters from hunting or trapping elsewhere in Alaska that year. They would have to salvage virtually all of the animal and haul it back with the meat still on the bone. Hunters couldn't use airplanes. The board will probably talk about banning all-terrain vehicles or enacting a measure similar to same-day airborne rules -- a hunter could use an ATV to reach the hunting grounds, but not use it while hunting, Spraker said.

If the proposal passes, and if the restrictions cause demand to fall as board members hope, it should leave enough caribou to create a new drawing hunt open to all hunters in the rest of Game Management Unit 13.

Other proposals up for discussion include a revision of the Tier II point system that would virtually eliminate Anchorage and Fairbanks hunters, reducing the number of caribou permits available for Tier II hunters and modifying the caribou season in Unit 13.

Daily News reporter Joel Gay can be reached at jgay@adn.com or at 257-4310.

Nelchina caribou hunt meeting

* what: Alaska Board of Game special meeting.
* why: To consider changing Tier II subsistence hunting regulations in Unit 13.
* where: Hotel Captain Cook.
* when: 8:30 a.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. Sunday
* who: Public testimony taken Saturday morning only.
* online: For more information, go to www.boards.adfg.state.ak.us

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