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Alaska farmers want fence to keep wild bison out of agricultural land, plan to downsize herd

Posted: April 19, 2011 - 9:39pm

FAIRBANKS — Farmers in Delta Junction want a fence built to keep wild bison from damaging their agricultural crops.

An advisory group to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is calling for fencing in 100,000 acres of private agricultural land in Delta Junction about 75 miles southeast of Fairbanks, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Tuesday.

The department also wants to downsize the herd in an attempt to reduce crop damage. Hunters oppose that idea.

A permit to hunt Delta bison is the most coveted hunting permit in Alaska. Last year, the department received more than 20,000 applications from hunters for 120 drawing permits.

The fence will be discussed at a Fish and Game meeting Thursday evening at Alpine Lodge in Fairbanks.

The fence proposal’s prospects are uncertain. The Department of Fish and Game has a mandate from the Legislature to manage a free-ranging bison herd, so “we don’t consider any fencing options as part of the plan right now,” said state wildlife planner Randy Rogers.

The proposal would place about a 160-mile fence around two large blocks of agricultural land. An additional 45-mile fence to be built on the south side of the Alaska Highway would keep them away from agricultural land.

The hunting community has offered no support for fencing, whether it’s fencing the bison in or out, Rogers said. Hunters also oppose any reduction in the herd. The department’s management objective is 360 bison before spring calving, and the state is proposing a new objective of 275 to 325 pre-calving. The herd currently numbers about 340 animals.

Farmers say something has to be done. Bison get approximately half their food supply from agricultural land. In addition to eating crops such as hay and barley, bison damage plants by tromping through them.

The Legislature has shown little interest in Delta bison management, Rogers said.

Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, co-chairman of the House Resources Committee, asked the department for an estimate of how much it would cost to fence the bison onto the 90,000-acre Delta Bison Range.

Fish and Game estimates it will cost roughly $3.15 million to fence in the bison range, which has a circumference of 63 miles. That compares to approximately $8 million to build 160 miles of fence to enclose private agricultural land and $2.25 million to build the 45-mile fence.

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