The popular Gustavus cow moose hunt has been canceled for this fall season.
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"Natural mortality made up for any harvest we wanted to take," said wildlife biologist Neil Barten of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Wildlife managers allow the harvest of female animals when populations are very high, as has been the case with the Gustavus moose population in recent years. But in the past year, cold weather and deep, persistent snow took a toll on moose in Gustavus - as well as deer and mountain goats in much of northern Southeast Alaska.
Moose are recent colonists to the Gustavus area. They moved into the forelands in the mid 1960s, and gradually exploited the fertile habitat. As the population grew in the late 1990s, wildlife mangers kept a close watch on the impact they were having on the vegetation, especially willows, their primary food.
By physically counting animals from the air, radio-collaring and tracking animals, and by using mark-recapture and other techniques to gauge the total population, Barten and his colleagues estimated that as many as 520 moose were using the Gustavus area in recent years. That was likely more than the habitat could support.
Biologists look at the condition of the animals, their pregnancy and twinning rates, the condition of the habitat, the survival of females, and recruitment of young animals into the population to determine the appropriate density of moose for the range.
"Initially we were concerned about over-utilization of the habitat because of the density of the animals there," Barten said. "Basically, they could degrade the habitat leading to a compromised forage base capable of supporting only a portion of the moose presently found there."
To lower the density of moose, a cow hunt was initiated in 2002 - in addition to the bull hunt - and some cows have been harvested every year since. However, natural factors such as predation and winter weather can take their own toll on moose numbers, replacing the need for harvest.
The cow moose hunt is managed under three drawing permit hunts, each for a different geographical region on the Gustavus forelands. Many hunters apply for all three hunts, hoping to get drawn for one of them. During spring of 2007, about 1,600 people applied for the three hunts, and 60 permits were issued. The hunt was to be held the first 10 days of December.
Barten regrets that hunters who were lucky enough to get a permit are now restricted from participating in the hunt, but hopes they can understand the need for closing the hunt.
The bull moose hunt in Gustavus was held earlier this month, Sept. 15 - 22. The bull hunt is a registration hunt, which means any licensed hunter can register and participate.
Barten said about 250 people signed up for that hunt, and 30 animals were harvested.
Riley Woodford is a writer with the Division of Wildlife Conservation at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He is the editor of Alaska Fish and Wildlife News, http://www.wildlifenews.alaska.gov/.
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