My Turn: Board of Game deals with complicated Nelchina Caribou issues

Posted: Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Alaska Board of Game met in Anchorage recently to consider proposals from the public, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and several conservation groups concerning hunting options for the Nelchina Caribou Herd near Glennallen. Since this is a complex issue that has been changed many times in the past, a summary and explanation of laws and board decisions may be helpful.

In our final decision, the board adopted a proposal that encompassed a combination of several proposed ideas. First, we looked at an open general hunt where permits would be issued using the standard random draw that most hunters are accustomed to. However, our state subsistence law prohibits the board from adopting only a drawing hunt because that type of hunt does not provide a reasonable opportunity for a subsistence hunter to draw a permit. Next, the board considered a registration type hunt, again open to all Alaska residents. This type of hunt would be legal under the subsistence statutes, if it was the only hunt available, but it had several obvious drawbacks.

As an example, in 1996 a similar unlimited registration subsistence hunt was held and 50,361 permits were issued, resulting in an early closure. Board members were concerned relying on just an unlimited registration would make it unlikely that ADF&G could exert the necessary control to close the hunt and avoid a huge overharvest, if a comparable number of hunters signed up. Even options of a one-day registration hunt were considered but the majority of the public that testified opposed such a hunt and did not consider it to be a reasonable opportunity for subsistence. The board also investigated the option of authorizing a Tier II hunt, but since the harvestable surplus is more than the number of animals necessary to satisfy subsistence needs, the board was prohibited by law from returning to a Tier II hunt.

Finally, the board considered a combination of options to first satisfy the state subsistence mandate and also provide an open opportunity for non-subsistence hunters. Because of legal complications relating to interpretation of Alaska's subsistence law, the last general draw hunt was held in the fall of 1987 on this caribou herd.

The proposal adopted by the Board, in a 4-3 vote, is comprised of a three-system approach. First, a Tier I community harvest program was reestablished with a limit of up to 300 of the probably 2,000-3,500 caribou available for harvest next year. Any group of 25 hunters or more can sign up for the community harvest program if they agree to meet the permit conditions, including those related to traditional practices like group hunting, sharing and community-wide meat distribution. Community harvest hunters are only allowed to hunt caribou in Unit 13, and they can only hunt moose in Units 13, 11 and a small portion of Unit 12. The season is Aug. 10 to Sept. 20 and Oct. 21 to March 31 or until the harvestable surplus is met. The bag limit is one caribou per person and the reporting period is five days.

The second hunt is a Tier I registration hunt, open to all Alaskan residents. The season is the same as the community harvest hunt but the bag limit is one caribou per household. All members of the household must sign up for the hunt and they can only hunt moose and caribou in Unit 13. However, the registration permit can be transferred to any member of the household. This hunt will be closed when the harvestable surplus is met. The reporting period is two days.

The third hunt is a standard random drawing, open to all Alaskan residents. The season starts on Aug. 20 and runs through Sept. 20. Season dates for the winter hunt are the same as other hunts. Hunters are not allowed to register in either Tier I hunt and also apply for a drawing permit in the same year. Drawing one of these non-subsistence caribou permits does not limit you to only hunting in Unit 13 for moose or caribou. Applicants will also earn a bonus point for each year they do not win a permit. This hunt will be closed when the harvestable surplus is met. The reporting period for this hunt is five days.

Applications for all State drawing hunts as well as Nelchina registration and drawing hunts will be available Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 for the 2011/2012 hunting season. Hunters will have an opportunity to sign up for the community harvest hunt at a later date.

• Spraker is the vice chairman of the Alaska Board of Game.

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