ANCHORAGE - A state permit program designed to accommodate traditional Alaska Native hunting practices isn't providing the data officials hoped for.
The Community Harvest Permit Program was launched last July in Chalkyitsik, an Interior village of about 100 people east of Fort Yukon. Under the program, individual bag limits can be pooled into a community bag limit so a few hunters can provide food for the entire village.
Chalkyitsik resident Charlene Fields, 36, helped collect paperwork from about a dozen people who signed up for the program, but she said it didn't reveal much.
"They were filled out and said they didn't kill anything," Fields said.
The problem of underreporting the harvest in rural Alaska is nothing new, said Mary Pete, director of subsistence for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. As a researcher in the 1980s, she found out that only seven of 33 moose killed in Russian Mission were accounted for under the state's harvest ticket system.
In the villages, one-third of the households produce two-thirds of the harvest for the community, Pete said. That doesn't fit well with the state's one hunter-one moose ticket system.
"The state harvest ticket system certainly doesn't work in rural Alaska," Pete said.
Fish and Game hopes the new program will produce more accurate harvest information and can be applied to other villages around Alaska to get a better picture of subsistence needs.
"We just want to know what the community needs and provide it for them," Pete said.
The new program allows residents of Chalkyitsik to do what they have traditionally done, but do it legally, said Dave Andersen, subsistence resource specialist for the Department of Fish and Game.
"A lot of Native people say we have to sneak around and do what we have traditionally done under the dark of night and we don't like it," he said.
About a dozen people in Chalkyitsik signed up for the program the first year, said Bob Stephenson, Fort Yukon area biologist for the Department of Fish and Game. Three hunters reported taking one moose each, even though wildlife officials strongly suspect many more were taken.
Departing from the one moose-one hunter formula is a big step for the community, Stephenson said. It could take four or five years to develop the kind of relationship in which rural residents understand the new system and feel comfortable about reporting what they kill.
"In small communities, the tendency is for people ... to take their chances and go hunting as they always have," Andersen said.
Fish and Game hopes the new program will do away with time-consuming and costly door-to-door surveys now used in rural communities.
"I think we can get the wrinkles worked out," Stephenson said of the new program.
Scarcity of many things in the villages means people have to work cooperatively to get things done, Fields said. One person might have a boat and the time to go hunting, while another might provide the shotgun shells and gas.
Sometimes the need to kill a moose for the village can arise quickly, she said. If a moose is needed for a potlatch celebration, someone goes out and kills one, she said.
"It has been like that as far as I have been here and probably always will," Fields said.
She supports the new program because she believes it will help protect the dwindling moose population by educating young people about good subsistence hunting practices.
"People are more aware of the decline of the moose population and not to kill a cow moose," she said.