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Judge Yanks Permits for Nelchina Hunts

Alex deMarban / Anchorage Daily News / July 20, 2007

A Superior Court judge Friday pulled the permits of thousands of people expecting to hunt caribou and moose in the Nelchina basin beginning as early as next month.

Judge Jack Smith's ruling said that the state improperly used income as a sole factor in determining who was eligible for the heavily contested permits to hunt along the Southcentral road system north and east of Anchorage. It came in a suit filed by several village councils and four hunters.

About 8,000 people had originally applied for the hunts in the Nelchina Basin, said Steve Schwartz, the state's permit hunt administrator.

If the decision stands, most of those applications will have to be rescored, state officials said. In that case, a new list of permit winners should be available by July 27, according to a written statement from the Department of Fish and Game.

About 3,150 people had won permits for the hunts, including 3,000 for the caribou hunt alone, Schwartz said.

Access to the state's most tightly regulated subsistence hunts are limited by a point system that takes into account such things as how long a person has hunted and eaten from a herd or game population. Whoever gets the most points wins the permits.

Earlier this year, however, the Board of Game made sweeping changes to the scoring system for Nelchina subsistence hunts, including tying hunting access directly to income for the first time in state history. The board decided that if an applicant's household income exceeded $51,640, their entire application would be "zeroed out."

Allowing income levels to supersede other factors, such as how long a person has hunted from the herd, sends the message to young people that "economic success is detrimental to cultural imperatives," the judge said.

The caribou season is scheduled to open Aug. 10 and the moose season Aug. 15.

The state might appeal the case, in part because the judge's decision came on the eve of the hunting season after a "lengthy public" process, according to the written statement. The judge said only those applications already submitted could be rescored.

Find Alex deMarban online at adn.com/contact/ademarban or call 257-4310.

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