The Alaska Board of Game has voted to nearly double the number of permits to hunt elk on Etolin and Zarembo Islands near Wrangell.
The move was urged by state game managers trying to control the population transplanted to Southeast from Oregon more than a decade ago.
Other Southeast regionwide proposals failed, including one to shorten the brown bear hunting season on the mainland. The meeting is scheduled to end Thursday at Juneau's Baranof Hotel.
The elk measure would increase the number of annual permits from 70 to 120. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Boyd Porter said the agency hopes more permits means hunters will take at least double the number of elk harvested now.
Even though the state issues 70 permits, the harvest is only six to 18 animals each year, he said.
"This is a very difficult area to hunt. People draw this tag not really realizing the difficulty of not only accessing but locating these animals," Porter said. "And we have a lot of people who draw tags that do not participate. So we're looking at ways to harvest more animals."
The state in 1997 estimated the population to be 250 elk. Biologists are concerned the herds could grow to 400 by next summer, possibly putting other game species at risk.
"During a severe winter there's going to be competition between the elk and deer," Porter said. "Deer are very important to the people of Southeast and we don't want to compromise that. We do want to increase the elk population, but not at the risk of these deer."
The Edna Bay Advisory Committee opposed the measure, saying in a prepared statement the group wants to postpone efforts to increase the harvest until the elk are better established. The group also argued more elk could ultimately help deer populations.
"Many (committee) members believe elk don't eat deer browse and that local elk could be an excellent source of meat, which could help relieve hunting pressure on the deer," the statement said.
The elk measure also allows deer hunters to incidentally take elk Aug.1 through Dec. 31.
"That would restrict animals from dispersing from Etolin and Zarembo Islands, where they're established now," Porter said. "So an elk found in Prince of Wales Island during the deer season ... then a deer hunter could harvest that animal legally."
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