FAIRBANKS - The state is opening the Delta Junction bison hunt two months early to help cut down on damage to local crops.
The early hunt that begins Monday will be for bulls only and will take place in limited areas.
Hunters with permits can take bison on private and public land north of the Alaska Highway. One parcel of private agricultural land south of the highway also will be open.
The early season does not apply to the 90,000-acre Delta Junction Bison Range or military lands south of the Alaska Highway. This is where bison typically roam before moving into farm fields.
A crop damage assessment conducted last fall estimated that bison caused more than $142,000 worth of damage to crop lands.
"We're hoping an early hunt can be a helpful management tool," biologist Steve DuBois with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a statement.
The Delta bison hunt, which normally opens Oct. 1, is the most popular drawing permit hunt in the state. It attracts more than 10,000 applications each year for about 100 permits. The state issued 70 bull permits and 50 cow permits this year.
Crop damage caused by bison has been a long-standing problem for farmers in the area. The 400-head herd spends about half its time on private agricultural land, where the animals eat, tromp and destroy crops like barley, hay and potatoes.
Some farmers have called for fencing the herd in or fencing their crops in, as well as reducing the size of the herd. Hunters have strongly opposed those options, resulting in a stalemate over the issue.
The early hunt was a suggestion from the Delta Bison Working Group, an advisory committee created by Fish and Game. The group, which has representatives from farming and hunting interests, has not come to any kind of consensus over decreasing herd size or fencing.
Delta farmer Mike Schultz, who represents the farming community in the group, said opening the season earlier is "worth a try."
Don Quarberg, one of two hunting representatives, agreed.
"I don't think (an earlier hunting season) is going to be the salvation but it can't be any worse," he said. "At least they're doing something."