The state Department of Fish and Game is closing a portion of the Fortymile caribou hunt off the Taylor Highway at midnight Thursday to protect animals from the Nelchina herd that have moved into the area during the past week.
Hunting south of milepost 60 of the Taylor Highway will be closed by emergency order at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, according to state wildlife biologist Jeff Gross in the Tok Fish and Game office.
Milepost 60 is about six miles south of Chicken.
The closure won't have much effect on the hunt, since less than 5 percent of the herd is in the southern portion of unit 20E where the season is being closed, Gross said.
"If hunters see a caribou south of milepost 60, it's most likely not from the Fortymile herd," said Gross.
Unfortunately for hunters, there aren't many animals near either the Steese or Taylor highways. As of Monday, only six caribou had been reported taken since the season opened on Dec. 1, and all of those were off the Taylor Highway.
Based on radio-tracking flights, at least one-third of the herd is in the Yukon Territory, he said. The bulk of the remainder of the herd is sandwiched between the Steese and Taylor highways. The closest caribou are still 80 to 100 miles by snowmachine, Gross said.
"It's been very slow," Gross said.
The quota for the winter Fortymile hunt is 378 caribou, which is split between the Steese and Taylor highways. The hunt will close on Feb. 28 or when the quota is met in either hunt.
This is the third year in a row the Nelchina herd has infiltrated the southern part of Unit 20E, forcing the state to close down that part of the Fortymile hunt.
According to state hunting regulations, Nelchina caribou may be taken only with a Tier II permit in Unit 13, or under federal subsistence regulations on federal lands. The federal subsistence hunting season for Fortymile caribou remains open on federal lands in the southern part of Unit 20E at this time.
Fish and Game was planning to place signs along the Taylor Highway to notify hunters of the closure. Hunters should call the Fortymile caribou hotline at (907) 267-2310 or the Fairbanks Fish and Game office at 459-7206 to find out the latest status of the hunt.
News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or firstname.lastname@example.org .