There will be another large-scale cow moose hunt around Delta Junction this fall but no decision has been made regarding a similar but more controversial cow hunt in Unit 20A, south of Fairbanks.
The Alaska Board of Game on Thursday approved a plan presented by the Department of Fish and Game designed to harvest another 400 cow moose from game management Unit 20D around Delta Junction.
Hunters killed 500 cows from Unit 20D last season, which state wildlife biologists said stabilized a moose population that is growing too fast. Despite the successful hunt, there is still a surplus of cows on the land, area management biologist Steve DuBois told board members in a conference room at Pike's Waterfront Lodge. He cited declining twinning rates, results of browse surveys and some of the highest moose densities in the state as evidence of that surplus.
Instead of holding a drawing permit hunt exclusively, as happened last year, the department proposed a drawing permit hunt in more accessible areas and a registration permit hunt in the areas that hunters have a hard time reaching, but where there are high moose densities. The move would direct more hunters into those areas, DuBois said.
The game board is in the home stretch of a marathon 11-day meeting to consider changes to Interior hunting and trapping regulations and whether or not to expand the state's predator control program. Thursday marked day seven of the meeting.
The Delta cow hunt is split into three areas, and the department will close the most accessible part of one area that parallels the Richardson Highway in the southwestern portion of the unit because hunters harvested a high number of cows from the area last year. The remaining portion of that unit will be split in half and be opened to a registration permit hunt with a harvest quota of 50 cow moose in each half.
The department will re-draw the boundaries for another unit south of Delta to incorporate more land with high moose densities and issue 400 drawing permits for the area, creating an anticipated harvest of 210 cow moose. The third area, north of the Alaska Highway, will remain unchanged, though the department will issue 200 drawing permits - 20 more than last year. The expected harvest in that area is about 100 moose, DuBois said.
The department also is pushing the season back 10 days. It will start on Oct. 10 and run to Nov. 25, rather than open Oct. 1 and close Nov. 15 as it did last season. The later opening is to ensure the hunt doesn't interfere with the breeding season, DuBois said.
Unlike the divisive unit 20A antlerless hunts, which have resulted in a harvest of more than 2,000 cow moose during the last four years, the Delta cow hunt hasn't created a groundswell of opposition - yet. Last year was the first season of liberal cow hunting.
Several local hunters have submitted proposals to end the cow hunt in unit 20A because they say too many moose have been taken, trails are getting torn up and crowding is an issue. The board is expected to take up the unit 20A antlerless hunt today.
Hunters in the Delta hunt will still be prohibited from shooting cows accompanied by calves or calves, a restriction that didn't sit well with board chairman Cliff Judkins of Wasilla.
"I'm aware this is because of local sentiments, but if it were up to me I wouldn't distinguish between cows and cows and calves, as long as we harvested both the cow and calf," he said.
Board member Ted Spraker applauded DuBose and the Delta advisory committee for being proactive in managing the moose population in unit 20D and not letting it get to the point that 20A did, where twinning rates are the lowest in the state.
"It's obvious you have a handle on what's going on," Spraker told DuBois. "You've done a lot to deal with both the biological and social aspects of this hunt."
Also in unit 20D on Thursday, the Game Board adopted a proposal that will likely increase the harvest opportunity for the Macomb Caribou Herd south of Delta Junction. The small mountain herd south of Delta experienced an unexpected population boost, according to a 2007 survey, and is now well above the management objective. The department's latest estimate for the herd is about 1,300 caribou and the objective is 600 to 800.
As a result, the department asked the board to increase the allowable harvest quota for the herd from 50 to 100 caribou. While it's unlikely the department will allow the harvest of that many caribou, it gives biologists the ability to do so if the herd keeps growing. The harvest quota for the hunt the last several years has been 25 caribou, and DuBose said the department will likely double the amount this season.
Contact staff Writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.