To the editor:
On Oct. 16, an article appeared in the News-Miner attempting to justify the emergency closure of the Unit 13 Tier II caribou hunt. A review of caribou numbers leaves anyone with even an elementary understanding of math wondering just how the Alaska Department of Fish and Game manages this herd. It also is clear that human harvest is not the cause of the decline.
The goal is to maintain the herd at 40,000 animals. ADF&G estimates there are less than 35,000. This would be a mix of adults, yearlings and calves. It is unknown how many calves were born last spring, but my estimate is around 11,000. The article states we currently have 35 calves per 100 cows which means little until you attempt to determine total calf numbers. It appears that less than 4,500 calves remain going into winter. About 6,500 calves have disappeared since May and June. Only 10 percent of calves born in spring 2007 may survive (about 1,000) until spring 2008. There will also be adult caribou mortality. Management experience with the Fortymile Caribou Herd indicates you must have a fall count of at least 50 calves per 100 cows for the herd to grow in size. You must also be doing predator control. Conclusion is more caribou are dying than being born.
It is difficult to see how this caribou herd will do anything but continue to shrink if the current "management" plan is maintained. Spring 2007 wolf population was 150 to 175 wolves, the minimum population desired by ADF&G. Based on wolf reproduction data from ADF&G, the wolf population has at least doubled. ADF&G published data also show that each wolf will eat up to 36 caribou per year. Unless a vigorous predator control program with a complete rethinking of the number of wolves to be retained is undertaken, the prospect of we Alaskans hunting Tier II or any other class of caribou in Unit 13 is very dim.
Gov. Palin has repeatedly stated she plans on managing for abundance. It appears her directive has fallen on deaf ears within ADF&G leadership.
Thomas N. Scarborough