Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / August 14, 2005
Fairbanks Alaska (AP) -- When state wildlife biologist Don Young talks about harvesting hundreds of cow moose on the Tanana Flats, he refers to it as "the good old days," a time when there were more than enough moose to go around for hunters who wanted them.
But when Mike Pearson talks about shooting cow moose, he does so with a reluctance that is common among hunters in Alaska.
"This cow deal is kind of scary," Pearson said.
With the Tanana Flats moose herd still showing signs of what biologists call "nutritional stress," the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is aiming to kill 800 cow and calf moose in Game Management Unit 20A south of Fairbanks this fall to thin the herd. The hunt is split into seven zones, each with a different harvest quota.
It's the second year in a row the state has opened up the Flats to a large cow harvest to slow growth of the herd.
Last year hunters killed a reported 602 antlerless moose - most of them adult cows - but that harvest barely put a dent in the moose population, according to Young. Biologists counted an estimated 16,000 moose on the Tanana Flats this summer.
"We want that population to come down to 10,000 or 12,000," Young said.
Wildlife biologists contend the Tanana Flats herd is too big for its range, and productivity is declining as a result, even though the number of moose continues to grow. Twinning rates have dropped, calves are getting smaller, some cows aren't reproducing until they are 4 or 5 years old and others only produce calves every other year.
Those are indicators of a moose population teetering on the edge, Young said.
"We want to utilize those moose," he said. "We don't want to stockpile them and have a hard winter come along and wipe them out."
Neither does Pearson. But at the same time, he said, "I'm not going to shoot a cow."
It might make biological sense to remove cows instead of bulls to reduce the population - one bull breeds several cows and there are about three times the number of cows as bulls - but the idea of shooting hundreds of cows doesn't sit well with some hunters.
"It's not real popular down here," said Pearson, who lives in Anderson and is chairman of the Middle Nenana Fish and Game Advisory Committee, one of more than 80 such groups around the state that make recommendations to state game managers.
Pearson's committee supported the expanded cow hunt, although opinions were mixed. Three of the four local advisory committees involved supported the hunt. Fish and Game must have the support of a majority of local advisory groups before implementing any cow hunt, according to state statute.
Some members of Pearson's committee were persuaded by Young's contention that many areas on the Flats are overbrowsed because there are too many moose.
Others on the committee, including Pearson, went along with the hunt only after Fish and Game agreed to delay the start of the cow hunt in the most accessible areas along the Parks Highway until Oct. 5 instead of opening it on Sept. 1 during the regular moose season. That should cut down on what Pearson said were crowded and unsafe conditions last year.
The only committee to oppose the cow hunt was the Delta Fish and Game Advisory Committee.
"We did not feel that shooting cows and calves was necessarily beneficial to the herd," chairman Darrell Darland said.
The state should conduct the controlled burn that has been on the books for the Tanana Flats for the past eight years instead of opening a cow hunt if there is a lack of food for moose, Darland said.
"If there's really a problem with browse, let's make some browse," he said.
Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com
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