Portions of Game Management Unit 4 were closed by emergency order to mountain goat hunting this week by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
ADF&G Area Management Biologist Phil Mooney said those areas include Blue Lake and Medvejie Lake drainages, and the south fork of the Katlian River drainage on Baranof Island, near Sitka.
This is the second season in a row that this emergency closure has been issued in this area.
Mooney cited a number of factors that resulted in the closure including an overall decline in the goat population, which has occurred since the extreme winter weather in 2006-07. He said the area is also very accessible for local Sitka hunters, which contributes to the high take in the area.
“Those three drainages comprise the most accessible areas from town,” Mooney said. “So we know these are local hunters mainly heading into these areas.”
Another reason for the closure, is the trend indicating hunters are harvesting older nannies — the same goats that most often successfully raise kids.
Even with educational efforts to inform hunters about the effects of harvesting nannies, the last five seasons (2007-2011) produced an average nanny harvest of 40 percent. It was highest in 2009 at 61 percent, Mooney said.
The goats on Baranof are large-bodied and small-horned, he said, and so they are sought after for their meat, instead of as trophies. “And there’s the argument, that nannies just taste better than billies.(But) if we can get the hunters to concentrate on the billies we’ll be fine.”
Researchers use aerial surveys to count goats in the area, but those surveys are not always possible due to weather and other factors. So Mooney relies on trends, and those trends are concerning.
Then, there’s the weather.
“Weather is one of the biggest factors up there,” he said.
Snow pack this year is currently deeper than during the large snow year about six years ago. And nannies will sacrifice kids for their own survival if they must, Mooney said.
It’s factors such as these that have called for the emergency closure this week and Mooney said he hopes that between smart management of the animal populations and through continued hunter education on why it’s important to harvest goats of a certain age and sex, then things should begin to improve for populations on Baranof.
“If we can stabilize the decline, then we should be able to see the response,” he said.
This year, the regular season for mountain goats in GM Unit 4 begins Aug. 1 and runs to Dec. 31. Hunters may apply for permits now in person at the Sitka ADF&G offices or online (hunt.alaska.gov). Regulations allow the taking of one goat per person. It is illegal to take nannies with kids, and the taking of billies is encouraged. Ways to tell the sex of the animals is outlined on the permit. Nonresident hunters must be accompanied by a guide.
Holly Dennison, a program technician with ADF&G, said the closure may happen again next year, but that decision will not be solidified until researchers conduct more surveys in the area.
This closure pertains specifically to registration hunt number RG150.
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