Fish and Game Cancels Winter Hunt of Fortymile Caribou Herd
Anchorage Daily News / November 26, 2009
A blitz of successful caribou hunters in August has forced the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to cancel the winter hunt of the Fortymile herd.
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, bagging 870 animals.
"We keep track of caribou with radio collars and visual searches," said state management coordinator Roy Nowlin said in a press release, "but we can't always predict how fast the harvest will progress. The quotas are very conservative so we can maintain herd growth."
The winter hunt normally has a quota of 210 animals.
In addition to the state action, the federal subsistence hunt manager closed the fall federal subsistence season so the winter season could proceed.
"Most of the animals were taken the first day of the season," said Nowlin, who added that many caribou were clustered near roadways, particularly the Taylor Highway. "By the time the season was closed ... we had exceeded the quota.
"We keep track of caribou with radio collars and visual searches, but we can't always predict how fast the harvest will progress."
Because quotas are conservative, Nowlin said, game managers can balance an overharvest in one hunt with tighter restrictions in another. He and other managers said the excessive harvest in August won't cause long-term harm.
State biologists have been trying to grow the Fortymile herd beyond its current size of 39,000 animals while also permitting some hunting. Fish and Game wildlife biologist Cathie Harms of Fairbanks said she expects the next survey will show growth.
Last winter, wildlife managers also launched a predator-control effort with a goal of shooting 150 wolves that should also boost the caribou herd. However, only about a quarter of that number were taken.
State biologists believe that successful wolf control could help them boost Fortymile caribou numbers to between 50,000 and 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.
"We're not trying to eradicate the wolf population, " James said.