Game board gets an earful from public

Posted: Monday, March 03, 2008

FAIRBANKS - The Board of Game faced a packed room Saturday as it took public testimony on hunting and game issues affecting Interior Alaska.

The board falls under the state Department of Fish and Game.

P.J. Simon told the board that bear meat is a staple food that people rely on. Simon, 36, who grew up hunting and trapping on the Koyukuk River before moving to Fairbanks a few years ago, spoke out in support of a proposal that would allow hunters to kill black bears in their dens, regardless of sex or age in two game management units along the middle Yukon and Koyukuk Rivers.

"We're Koyukon Indians," Simon said, speaking into a microphone while seated at a table in front of the board. "We take great respect harvesting our animals. We've always harvested bears in their dens in the fall. We have been doing it and we're going to continue to do it."

Simon also spoke in favor of predator control. He told the board that it should take whatever steps necessary to ensure Native Alaskans can preserve their subsistence lifestyles and culture.

"You can't pluck a Hot Pocket. You can't scale a can of Spam. You can't skin a box of chicken," Simon said, drawing a chuckle from the board members and audience.

More than 50 people signed up to testify before the board about specific proposals that have been submitted to increase or decrease bag limits, shorten or lengthen seasons, restrict or liberalize methods and make various other changes to regulations.

The board was expected to hear more public testimony Sunday before beginning deliberations on individual proposals.

Many who testified Saturday spoke about the need for more predator control, treatment of resident vs. nonresident hunters, the impact of guides on local hunters in Bush villages, and possible restrictions on all-terrain vehicles, airplanes and airboats.

Larry Williams, 64, who lives in the Yukon River village of Venetie and is the chairman of the Yukon Flats advisory committee, joined Simon in speaking in support of predator control.

"Our parents and grandparents pretty much controlled what was on the land," Williams told the board. "Right now there's no control at all. Wolves. Black bears. Brown bears. They're overrunning the country."

Several Native residents spoke out against proposals to allow the trapping of bears with snares, including elder Benedict Jones of Koyukuk. If a black bear is snared by the neck, the bear will "blow up in two hours" and the meat will be spoiled, he said.

It's not our traditional way," Jones said of trapping bears. "We can't support that."

Sheep hunter Tom Lamal of Fairbanks wrote a proposal that would open the sheep hunting season for Alaska residents two days earlier than for nonresidents. In his testimony to the board, Lamal said he would prefer to see the season open five days earlier for residents.

"Residents should be rewarded to have quality hunting time before they have to compete with commercial operators," he said, referring to guides.

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