SITKA — A dramatic decline in Baranof Island’s goat population has led state game officials to restrict hunting this year.
The three most popular watersheds on the island will be closed to hunting on the Southeast Alaska island, KCAW radio reported.
If hunters take eight nannies on others parts of the island, the entire unit will be closed, officials said.
Mountain goats were introduced to Baranof Island in 1923, when 18 goats were transferred from Tracy Arm.In 2004, the herd was flourishing, and it was estimated there were more than 1,500 goats, even with hunting. But the stock has been reduced by 42 percent because of harsh winters over the last six years.
Alaska Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Phil Mooney said he was closing off hunting in the Blue Lake and Medvejie watersheds, and the south fork of the Katlian River drainage to head off a population crash.
Successful goat hunters have to present the skull to obtain the animal’s age and sex. In the past couple of years, the average age of nannies harvested has been about 6. They don’t start having kids until they are 4 or 5 years old, so this puts them close to the core of the breeding population.
Mooney said aerial surveys this spring showed a 62 percent decline in the ratio of kids to adult goats.
“I don’t really get excited about a one-year drop or a one-year rise. There’s a lot of fluctuation out there. But when you get a sustained trend, and all the numbers are going one way except that the nanny age is going up, you’re setting yourself up for a bad situation,” he said.
The U.S. Forest Service will close the subsistence season concurrently with the state.
The Federal Subsistence Board ruled in 1996 that the harvest and use of mountain goats was “customary and traditional” for the residents of Sitka, Hoonah, Tenakee, Funter Bay, Angoon, Port Alexander, and Elfin Cove, said Jack Lorrigan, a local hunter and a subsistence biologist for the Forest Service.
With the close of the Baranof Island watersheds, it will force hunters to travel farther for goats. Lorrigan said the new restrictions will force hunters to adjust their style to make sure they are only killing males.
Since from a distance, billy and nanny goats look alike, he urged hunters to slow down.
“Take your time, get to know the profile,” Lorrigan said.
“Try to get as close as you can. Long-range shots are admirable in some instances, but in this instance, we need people to be sure of what they’re taking, to protect the stock,” he said.
As a compromise, hunters will be allowed to hunt in neighboring drainages at Green Lake and Nakwasina, but if one nanny is taken in those areas, they’ll also be closed by emergency order, he said.