Wolf Song of Alaska News

Hunters Open Rhetorical Fire on Board of Game

Testimony to continue today

Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / March 2, 2008

All P.J. Simon wants is some black bear meat to eat.

"Bears are one of our staple foods," Simon told the seven members of the Alaska Board of Game on Saturday, as he sat facing them in a packed conference room at Pike's Waterfront Lodge in Fairbanks. "We render the fat down and use it in our lean meats like caribou and moose. We rely on bear meat for our lipids.

"It's good power food," he said.
Simon, 36, who grew up hunting and trapping on the Koyukuk River before moving to Fairbanks a few years ago, was speaking in support of a proposal that would allow hunters to kill black bears in their dens - regardless of sex or age - in two game management units along the middle Yukon and Koyukuk Rivers.
"We're Koyukon Indians," Simon declared proudly, speaking into a microphone while seated at a table in front of the board. "We take great respect harvesting our animals. We've always harvested bears in their dens in the fall. We have been doing it and we're going to continue to do it."

Simon also spoke in favor of predator control. The game board should take whatever steps necessary to ensure Native Alaskans can preserve their subsistence lifestyles and culture, he said.

"You can't pluck a Hot Pocket. You can't scale a can of Spam. You can't skin a box of chicken," Simon said, drawing a chuckle from the board members and audience.

Impassioned public testimony like Simon's was the theme Saturday on day two of the game board's 11-day meeting in Fairbanks to consider changes to hunting and trapping regulations across the Interior region.

More than 50 people signed up to testify before the board about specific proposals that have been submitted to increase or decrease bag limits , shorten or lengthen seasons, restrict or liberalize methods and make various other changes to current regulations. Much or all of today's meeting, which starts at 8:30 a.m., also will be taken up by public testimony before the board begins deliberating on individual proposals late Sunday or Monday.

As is usually the case, the same issues were raised by many who testified Saturday: the need for more predator control, treatment of resident vs. non-resident hunters, the impact of guides on local hunters in Bush villages, and possible restrictions on all-terrain vehicles, airplanes and airboats.

Larry Williams, 64, who lives in the Yukon River village of Venetie and is the chairman of the Yukon Flats advisory committee, joined Simon in speaking in support of predator control.

"Our parents and grandparents pretty much controlled what was on the land," Williams told the board. "Right now there's no control at all. Wolves. Black bears. Brown bears. They're overrunning the country."

Galena resident Teekona Sweetsir spoke out in opposition of a proposal to lift a ban on aircraft in the Koyukuk Controlled Use Area, a popular moose hunting region in the central Interior.

"I think this was written by a guide for guides," Sweetsir said of the proposal. "The only people who are going to benefit are guides and horn hunters."

While the author of the proposal stated that all hunting takes place within a mile of the river, Sweetsir said that's not true. Locals take boats up tributaries or walk in off the river to hunt far back off the river.

"Everybody I see up there is more than a mile off the river," he said. "This year I know a guy that walked five miles (off the river)."

Allowing guides or transporters to drop off hunters by airplane would also increase the chance of meat spoilage unless the guide or transporter is required to check on them every day, Sweetsir said.

"I see a lot of wanton waste of moose meat if this is going to pass," he said. "If a guy gets a moose right after he gets dropped off and the guide doesn't come back for two or three days, that moose meat is going to spoil in 60- and 70-degree heat."

Several Native residents spoke out against proposals to allow the trapping of bears with snares, including elder Benedict Jones of Koyukuk. If a black bear is snared by the neck, the bear will "blow up in two hours" and the meat will be spoiled, he said.

"It's not our traditional way," Jones said of trapping bears. "We can't support that."

Don Quarberg of Delta Junction told the board something needs to be done about the impact four-wheelers are having on the landscape. Quarberg, who is chairman of the Delta advisory committee, submitted his own proposal to restrict four-wheelers in an area south of Delta Junction that he says is becoming overrun with ATVs. Today's machines are so big and powerful that hunters can ride them to the top of mountains, spot a moose and drive down to shoot it.

"The modern moose hunter now wears out two ATVs before he wears out one pair of boots," said Quarberg, who is retired. "Hunting is changing, and us old guys don't like it.

"I will not fish the Russian River and I don't want to hunt like that, either," he said, in reference to combat fishing on the popular Kenai Peninsula salmon stream.

Board member Ted Spraker, a retired state wildlife biologist living on the Kenai, was sympathetic.

"This board has struggled with ATV issues for years and years, and we've never resolved it," he said.

Sheep hunter Tom Lamal of Fairbanks wrote a proposal that would open the sheep hunting season for Alaska residents two days earlier than for non-residents. In his testimony to the board, Lamal said he would prefer to see the season open five days earlier for residents.

"Residents should be rewarded to have quality hunting time before they have to compete with commercial operators," he said, referring to guides.

The success rate for Alaska sheep hunters is only about 25 percent, while guided non-resident hunters have a success rate of about 70 percent, he said.

"I'm not against commercial operators," said Lamal, noting that the non-resident season would be just as long as it is now. "I just want to make a quality hunt."
Contact staff Writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

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