The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will propose a major reduction in the number of cow moose to be killed by hunters in Unit 20A next year when the Alaska Board of Game convenes for an 11-day meeting in Fairbanks beginning Friday.
A specific proposal for the controversial antlerless hunt is still in the works, but area management biologist Don Young said the harvest quota for the hunt will likely be 250 cow moose, which is less than half of what it has been the past three years.
"We're still in the process of working it out," said Young, who was planning to meet with the heads of local advisory committees tonight to finalize the details of the proposal. "It's probably going to be reduced numbers in terms of the harvest quota and some changes in boundaries."
There also will likely be some caveats attached to the hunt, such as no shooting of calves or cows accompanied by calves, both of which have been free game the past three years.
The future of the hunt will be up to the seven-person game board, which meets in Fairbanks every two years to consider changes to hunting and trapping seasons in the Interior.
The board will consider 138 proposals submitted by the Department of Fish and Game, local advisory committees, individual hunters, guides and wildlife viewers during its marathon meeting in Fairbanks.
The first two or three days of the meeting, which begins Friday at 8:30 a.m. at Pike's Waterfront Lodge, is devoted to public testimony on proposals before the board. Members of the public can sign up to testify about any of the proposals.
The large-scale antlerless moose hunt in Unit 20A, which is the Tanana Flats and Alaska Range foothills south of town, has been a controversial topic that has divided the local hunting community since its inception four years ago. Hunters have killed more than 2,200 antlerless moose - mostly cows - in the past four years in Unit 20A.
This year's harvest quota for the hunt, which ends today, was 600 antlerless moose. At last report, the harvest was approximately 400 moose.
State wildlife biologists say the hunt is needed to thin a herd that has grown too big and is showing signs of nutritional stress, such as lower pregnancy rates, lower twinning rates and smaller calves.
But a growing number of complaints from hunters who feel too many cows have been killed and want the hunt halted has prompted the department to re-examine the Unit 20A hunt.
Last month, a workshop sponsored by the department to explain the reasons behind the hunt attracted a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 hunters, many of whom voiced their concerns about the hunt. Many simply don't like the idea of shooting cow and calf moose, while others say the department has gone too far and should pull the plug on the hunt.
There are proposals before the game board to both extend and stop the antlerless hunts in Unit 20A, as well as Unit 20B, which encompasses much of the road system around Fairbanks.
But Virgil Umphenour, chairman of the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said he expects the department's proposal for a reduced harvest to placate many of those opposed to the antlerless hunts.
"I don't expect it to be near the controversy it was," Umphenour said, referring to the department's latest proposal. "They changed it around a little bit."
According to Young, the department was already planning to scale back next year's antlerless hunt in Unit 20A before any proposals were submitted to eliminate it.
"This is really not too far from where we would have been anyway," he said.