State managers consider overhaul of Nelchina hunt

Change will reduce number of Nelchina subsistence hunters, increase caribou numbers

Posted: Tuesday, February 22, 2005

ANCHORAGE - State game managers are considering an overhaul of rules in Nelchina so that any state resident will be able to subsistence hunt in areas north and east of Anchorage for caribou and moose.

If the Alaska Board of Game approves the proposal next month, it would be the first time in 15 years the highway-accessible hunt had such unlimited access.

The proposal was crafted by a committee of Game Board members, sportsmen and subsistence advocates. If it works as they hope, it will reduce the number of state-certified Nelchina subsistence hunters and free up enough caribou for a new hunt open to any Alaska hunter.

"This is going to be a win-win for everybody," said board member Ted Spraker, a retired state game biologist who helped design the approach.

Not everyone who heard the proposal explained at the Anchorage Fish and Game Advisory Committee meeting last week was convinced.

"I don't think it's fair," said Howard Hansen, an Anchorage resident who has hunted the Nelchina caribou herd since 1962 and is among the 700-plus Anchorage hunters virtually guaranteed a permit under the current state subsistence system. "I'd rather have it stay the way it is," he said.

The proposal has several catches. Those who sign up couldn't hunt or trap elsewhere in Alaska that year. They would have to salvage virtually every ounce of meat. And they couldn't use airplanes or motor homes, and might not be able to use some larger ATVs.

The Nelchina caribou hunt is within a short drive of two-thirds of Alaska's population. In some years more than 10,000 animals have been killed in a season.

But since 1977, with too many hunters for the number of caribou, the Game Board has restricted hunting. At first, hunters were selected by random drawing, and Nelchina was considered a sport hunt, though a few area residents qualified for state subsistence permits.

The modern era began after the Alaska Supreme Court's 1989 McDowell ruling, which said all Alaskans, not just rural residents, qualify for subsistence hunting and fishing privileges.

Because the Nelchina hunt was restricted already, and because subsistence is considered a higher priority than sport in times of shortage, the hunt was designated subsistence.

The state used a questionnaire to determine who, among all residents, would get the highly coveted permits. Applicants receive points on several questions, including how many years they hunted in the region, the cost of food and fuel in their community, and availability of alternative resources. Since 1999, the number of permits has ranged from 2,000 to 10,000, depending on the size of the herd.

The proposed Nelchina plan came about because the current system has been a source of frustration and complaint, Game Board member Ron Somerville said.

"It's become a liar's contest to see who can come up with the most points," he said.

More than a third of all Nelchina permits go to Anchorage and Fairbanks residents.

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