ANCHORAGE - A judge in Kenai has blocked the state from issuing an extra 1,000 subsistence hunting permits to take caribou in the Nelchina herd north and east of Anchorage.
State Superior Court Judge Carl Bauman granted a motion Wednesday saying the state can't give out more permits for the fall season that starts Tuesday.
A hunter who filed the original lawsuit over the community harvest, Kenneth Manning, argued the state was trying to return to a lottery system the court had already ruled against.
Bauman ruled July 9 that a community hunt for eight Native villages in the Copper Basin amounted to a rural preference, which is against the state constitution. State courts have ruled that all Alaska residents are one pool of hunters.
Wednesday's ruling is the latest twist in a court battle over who gets to hunt one of Alaska's most sought after and easily accessible caribou herds. Game Management Unit 13 is a 23,000-square-mile hunting area accessible from the Parks, Denali, Richardson, Glenn and Tok Cutoff highways.
The July 9 ruling affected as many as 500 community harvest hunters in the region and the 850 hunters who had already won Tier I subsistence permits by lottery, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
"There was basically no hunt at that point," said Bruce Dale, regional supervisor with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Palmer.
As regulators searched for fast answers, the court allowed a compromise that applies to this year only, Dale said. Those who had already received Tier I permits may still hunt this season and so may villagers who hunted in the 2009 community harvest, which was administered by Ahtna Inc.
But the state Board of Game had also wanted to give out 1,000 extra Tier I permits this coming season because state biologists now say the herd has grown so much since the last census that it could withstand and even needed additional hunting.
Biologists estimate there are about 45,000 caribou today, exceeding the population goal of 35,000 to 40,000 caribou and risking overgrazing and future declines, Dale said.
Another Nelchina caribou hunt will begin Oct. 21, Dale said. The state will likely give 2,000 Tier II permits for this hunt, he said.
Any Alaskan is potentially a subsistence hunter under state law. Tier II permits kick in when the number of hunting permits are rationed, and they are awarded based on a scoring system that accounts for things like how long someone has hunted the herd.
Hunters can apply for those Tier II permits through Sept. 30, Dale said.