Caribou hunters along the Steese and Taylor highways were so successful they exceeded the fall quota for the Fortymile herd hunt by 36 percent in just three days.
Hunters took 870 caribou, well above the fall quota of 640 and more than the annual quota of 850 animals.
As a result, state biologists have cancelled winter hunt, which normally has a quota of about 210 animals.
The state reserved 40 caribou for a federal winter subsistence hunt that will open Nov. 1.
Most of the overharvest in the fall hunt, which opened Aug. 10, came in areas near the Taylor Highway, said Fish and Game area biologist Jeff Gross of Tok. According to preliminary harvest numbers, hunters took about 580 caribou off the Taylor, which runs north to Eagle from the Alaska Highway near Tok, before the season was closed Aug. 12.
That's twice the harvest quota of 290.
Hunters on the Steese Highway, which runs north out of Fairbanks, reported taking about 270 caribou. The harvest quota for that hunt was 190. It also was closed after three days.
Biologists with the federal Bureau of Land Management, meanwhile, also closed for the fall subsistence hunt on the Steese and Taylor highways after its quota of 60 caribou was exceeded.
"Most of the animals were taken the first day of the season," regional management coordinator Roy Nowlin said. "By the time the season was closed ... we had exceeded the quota."
CLUSTERED NEAR ROAD
There wasn't much state game managers could do to prevent the excessive kill near the Taylor Highway, said Fish and Game area biologist Jeff Gross of Tok. Managers analyzed harvest reports after the hunt and determined that most of the harvest on the Taylor Highway occurred on the first day of the hunt.
"Even if we had issued an emergency order before the hunt opened for a one-day hunt on the Taylor Highway, we still would have taken more animals than the quota," Gross said.
There were more caribou near the roads than biologists thought after conducting an aerial survey of the herd before the hunt, Nowlin said. Only nine of 77 radio-collared animals in the herd were near the roadways, he said, leading biologists to believe the bulk of the herd was well away from the roads. Vegetation also hid many of the animals from biologists flying over in planes, he said.
The third hunt area remains open, a remote area called Zone 3 in the upper Salcha and Goodpaster rivers, accessible only by plane or boat, remains open. Hunters have killed about 20 caribou there from a quota of 160, Gross said.
GROWING THE HERD
As for canceling the state winter hunt, "I think everybody recognizes there's not an adequate quota left to hold a state winter hunt," Gross said, noting that the decision to cancel it was made after managers spoke with representatives from five Fish and Game Advisory Committees within the herd's range, as well as federal hunt managers.
The department, with the help of local advisory committees and federal managers, would like a better way to manage the Fortymile hunt, Gross said. It's a topic expected to be discussed at the state Board of Game meeting in Fairbanks in March.
"We'll be trying to address the current situation of short hunts and the difficulty in controlling harvest," Gross said.
State biologists have been trying to grow the Fortymile herd beyond its current 39,000 animals while allowing some hunting.
Over the winter, a predator-control effort had the state shooting wolves from helicopters in an effort to boost caribou numbers. The goal was to shoot 150 wolves, but only about a quarter of that number were taken.
The wolf shooting aimed to eventually boost Fortymile caribou numbers to 50,000 to 100,000 animals.
Regional Fish and Game supervisor David James said in March the state planned to spend about $100,000 on the aerial hunt, hoping to kill 300 of the 400 wolves in area.
"We're not trying to eradicate the wolf population," James said.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner contributed to this report.