Hunters from urban centers and eastern Interior villages rallied behind the controversial Nelchina subsistence caribou hunt and persuaded the Alaska Board of Game on Sunday to defeat a plan to restructure it.
The board split 3-4 on a proposal that would have required hunters in the Tier II subsistence program to take their game meat solely from the basin north and east of Anchorage and prohibited them from hunting elsewhere in the state.
As a result of the decision, the hunt will continue as it has for more than a decade. Hunting permits will be awarded according to a point system some hunters say encourages cheating and prevents others from getting permits simply because they're not old enough.
"I was really disappointed," said Cliff Judkins, one of three board members who spent much of the last year developing the new plan. Those three were the only ones to support it at the special board meeting at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage last weekend.
"Over the years we've probably had 50 different proposals to change (the Tier II hunt), but the only ones who showed up to the meeting" to testify supported the status quo, Judkins said. That opposition influenced the board, he said.
"If 50 or 60 people had come who have over the years demanded we change that Tier II system, it might have been a different outcome," Judkins added.
Voting with him to change the regulations were board members Ron Somerville of Juneau and Ted Spraker of Soldotna.
Board chairman Mike Fleagle, who voted against the proposal, said the Game Board "sees a lot of frustration with the current system and wishes there was a way to fix it. The majority of the board just didn't feel (the proposed regulation change) was the answer. It was an alternative, but it wasn't the answer."
Some Copper Basin subsistence hunters opposed the plan because it reduced their traditional hunting area, Fleagle said. And many urban hunters who currently qualify for Nelchina permits didn't want to lose them, he said.
The board tabled until January a second proposal to revise the point system for Tier II permits. As the proposal is currently written, Anchorage and Fairbanks hunters would be eliminated from the Nelchina hunt when the number of permits is at current levels or lower, while Mat-Su residents would win more permits.
Fleagle said the board may modify the proposal to ensure that at least some Anchorage and Fairbanks hunters still qualify for permits.
The board defeated a third proposal, which would have reduced the number of subsistence hunting permits available in the Nelchina caribou hunt. A fourth proposal, to modify the caribou season in Unit 13, was withdrawn.
Daily News reporter Joel Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 257-4310.