Wolf Song of Alaska News

Hunters Unload on Board of Game for Second Straight Day

Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / March 3, 2008

As he defended his fellow airboaters on Sunday to the Alaska Board of Game, Ray Heuer of Fairbanks summed up many of the proposals the board will examine over the next week to change hunting and trapping regulations in the Interior.

"I wish you guys could regulate tolerance," Heuer told the seven-member board in a crowded conference room at Pike's Waterfront Lodge. "If you guys could regulate tolerance, you'd solve a lot of these problems."

For Heuer, the problem was a proposal to ban airboats from moose hunting on the Teklanika River, where he happens to own property.

Wearing a camouflage shirt and ball cap, Heuer refuted testimony the board had heard the day before about "hooligan" airboaters on the river who run their loud machines 12 hours a day for days on end, chase all the moose away and tear up the country.

"I'm one of those hooligan airboaters you heard about," Heuer said.

But Heuer said the testimony the board heard was a bunch of bull, and he wasn't talking about moose. There are only one or two other airboats who hunt on the river and considering the fact that airboats burn eight gallons of fuel an hour, none of them can afford to run their airboats 12 hours a day, he said.

"It's not cost-effective for me to run my airboat," Heuer said. "There's no benefit. The only benefit to me is I don't tear up the habitat.

"I can drive over something with my airboat and you can't tell I've been there," he said.

As for the noise issue, airboats aren't as loud as they used to be, Heuer said.

"I make just about the same amount of noise as an inboard (boat) motor," he said.

If airboats are as loud as critics claim and scare all the animals away, he and his hunting partners couldn't have bagged two bull moose last season, Heuer said. The truth is, some people just don't like airboats and never will, he said.

"They're intolerant of our presence," Heuer said. "The sight of an airboat hitched up along the river is enough, so they want to kick us out."

And so it went during day three of the Game Board's 11-day meeting in Fairbanks to review hunting and trapping regulations for the Interior region on Sunday. For the second straight day, the board spent the entire day listening to hunters such as Heuer plead their cases about specific proposals before the board to change hunting and trapping regulations in the Interior.

Approximately 60 people had testified before the board by the end of Sunday and almost 30 more were signed up to speak today. The board will begin making decisions on the 138 proposals that have been submitted at the conclusion of public testimony.

One of the most riveting testimonies on Sunday came from 52-year-old Tom Huntington, son of legendary Native elder Sydney Huntington, who served on the Game Board for more than 20 years and wrote the popular book "Shadows on the Koyukuk" about being raised as a Native in the Bush.

The younger Huntington testified in support of a proposal to allow the killing of bears in their dens, a traditional practice by Koykukon Indians. Normally, Huntington told the board, he wouldn't even talk about it.

"I come before you at great risk," he said. "This issue of harvesting bears traditionally is something we don't talk about. To talk about it, that's a bad thing amongst my people."

But Huntington relented and told board members that Koyukons are raised to treat bears with the utmost respect and eating bear meat and fat is an important part of the culture.

"It's not about predator control," he said. "It's about the traditional and customary use of it. That bear is a powerful thing.

"I bet we the people on the Koyukuk River eat more bear meat than the rest of the state put together," he said.

Huntington discussed in detail how hunters seek out and find bear dens, how they leave the hide behind to "honor" the animal, how they avoid taking sows with cubs and why it is important to hunt bears during the winter.

"It's at its fattest," he said of a denning bear. "Their systems are so clean. Everything is good in it. We take the intestine and spread it and burn it. It tastes just like sausage."

While hunters now use rifles instead of spears to kill bears in their dens, the practice is still considered sacred among Koyukons, who will continue hunting regardless of the decision the board makes, said Huntington.

"We want it to be legal so we can be law-abiding citizens," he told the board.

Valerie Baxter of North Pole spoke in favor of continuing the cow and calf moose hunt in Units 20A and 20B surrounding Fairbanks, one of the most controversial topics the board will consider this week. Several proposals have been written to end the hunts, which have resulted in a harvest of more than 2,200 antlerless moose in Unit 20A in the past four years, and the board has heard testimony from both camps.

Moose in Unit 20A are the most well-researched moose in the state and the public should believe the numbers provided by the Department of Fish and Game, she said. From what she sees, the matter is more about social issues than biological ones.

"I don't understand what makes cow and calf moose so special," she said. "Nobody complains about shooting cow caribou. People actually fight over killing cow bison."

Mark Richards, representing Alaska Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, echoed Heuer's comments on tolerance and said hunters need to work together.

"Behind me right now, I bet I could share a campfire with 95 percent of the people and have a nice chat," said Richards, who lives in the Bush on the Kandik River. "But we're so polarized. We're fighting amongst ourselves."

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

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