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ANCHORAGE - It took just a few days for caribou hunters along the Steese and Taylor highways to smash the fall quota for the Fortymile herd hunt.
Hunters took 870 caribou - way above the fall quota of 640 and even more than the annual quota of 850. State biologists canceled the winter hunt in response, but 40 caribou are reserved for a federal winter subsistence hunt that begins Nov. 1.
State biologists are trying to increase the struggling Fortymile herd beyond its current size of about 39,000. The herd has been the focus of a recovery plan for years. Over the winter, a predator-control effort had the state shooting wolves from helicopters in an effort to increase caribou numbers.
Most of the overharvest in the fall hunt, which opened Aug. 10, occurred in areas near the Taylor Highway, which runs north to Eagle from the Alaska Highway near Tok.
According to preliminary harvest numbers, hunters took about 580 caribou off the Taylor Highway - double the harvest quota of 290 - before the season was closed Aug. 12, said Fish and Game area biologist Jeff Gross.
Hunters on the Steese Highway, which runs north out of Fairbanks, reported taking about 270 caribou - 80 more than the harvest quota. It also closed in three days.
Gross said there was little state game managers could do to halt the excessive kill near the Taylor Highway. "Even if we had issued an emergency order before the hunt opened for a one-day hunt on the Taylor Highway, we still would have taken more animals than the quota," Gross said.
There were more caribou near the roads than biologists thought after conducting an aerial, pre-hunt survey of the herd, said Roy Nowlin, Fish and Game management coordinator. Only nine of 77 radio-collared animals in the herd were near the roadways, he said, leading biologists to think most of the herd was well away from the roads.
The third hunt area remains open. It's in a remote area, accessible only by plane or boat, near the upper Salcha and Goodpaster rivers. Hunters have killed about 20 caribou there from a quota of 160.