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FAIRBANKS - More hunters will be setting their sights on cow moose around Fairbanks this season.
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Not only did the Alaska Board of Game approve on Friday another big antlerless moose hunt in Game Management Unit 20A this fall on the Tanana Flats south of Fairbanks, the board also approved new cow hunts in Unit 20B surrounding Fairbanks and in part of Unit 20D southwest of Delta Junction.
The two new hunts allow the state Department of Fish and Game to distribute up to 500 drawing permits for antlerless moose - up to 300 in the 20B hunt and up to 200 in the 20D hunt - though game managers say it's unlikely that number of permits will be issued this year.
Those hunts sandwich what is already the state's largest antlerless moose hunt, a registration permit hunt in Unit 20A that has produced a harvest of almost 1,300 cows and calves the past two years.
Fish and Game wildlife biologist Don Young presented the state's case for continuing a high cow harvest in Unit 20A while instituting a smaller one in Unit 20B to the Game Board on Day 8 of an 11-day meeting at the Princess Hotel in Fairbanks.
The moose populations in both units, especially 20A, are too high and need to be reduced, the biologist said. Using statistics-filled graphs and charts, Young documented the population growth in both areas and the estimated 150 moose killed on Fairbanks roads in Unit 20B each year.
"In these areas where we're proposing hunts are areas we've seen increasing moose populations and we want to take advantage of that by making sure the populations don't grow too big too fast while at the same time providing hunting opportunity," he said.
While the Unit 20A antlerless hunt has been controversial for a variety of reasons, ranging from hunter conflicts to philosophical arguments, the hunt has also been immensely popular, Young said. More than 2,000 hunters have participated each of the past two years and the hunt has provided for 15 to 20 percent of the state's entire moose harvest.
Even after two high cow harvests, the 20A moose population is about 17,000, well above the management objective of 10,000 to 12,000.
"It follows my biological sense of antlerless moose - you harvest them when the populations are increasing and leave them alone when they're decreasing," said board member Ted Spraker, a retired state wildlife biologist. "We're still over the population objective and we're still under the harvest objective."
The Game Board spent considerable time debating how many permits the department should be allowed to issue the cow hunt in Unit 20D southwest of Delta Junction.
The original proposal for the Unit 20D hunt, submitted by the Delta Advisory Committee, called for a maximum of 20 permits to be issued. At the urging of DuBois, who says the hunt could support a much larger cow harvest, the advisory committee agreed to bump it up to 75 permits.
But the board, despite pleas from Fish and Game staff to honor the advisory committee's request, increased the limit to 200, though it's ultimately up to the department how many permits are issued.
If there are surplus moose to harvest, the state owes it to hunters to make them available, said board member Cliff Judkins of Wasilla.
"A lot of people in Alaska are having a hard time finding moose because they can't get to where they are," Judkins said. "There's moose in this area, there's public lands in this area. ... There comes a point in time where you've got to respect the rest of the state's right to hunt."
Judkins noted that while the Delta committee was reluctant to endorse a cow hunt in an area with too many moose, it had asked for a wolf-control program in another area to boost moose and caribou population.