With a new population estimate for 17A moose showing numbers higher than the managed range, advisory committees and state, federal biologists support request for an extra week at the end of the fall hunt.
Alaska’s Board of Game will hold a Central/Southwest Region meeting in Dillingham February 16-23, and local Fish and Game Advisory Committees have been meeting in October to weigh in on various proposals.
The Nushagak AC, which has members from Koliganek to Togiak, met for an all-day meeting in Dillingham on Oct. 24. At the opening of the meeting, retired ADF&G wildlife biologist Jim Woolington stepped down from his seat, mentioning that he is spending more time in Indiana with his elderly parents these days. Susie Jenkins-Brito moved up from an alternate to a full member of the committee, and the rest of the members up for election were voted back in unchallenged.
Moose proved to be the biggest topic of the day, as a handful of proposals seek to change moose hunting regulations in Bristol Bay’s western game management units, designated 17A, B, and C by the state. ADF&G wildlife biologist Neil Barten gave a lengthy update on recent study efforts to track the herd health and size, something his division has had increased revenue to undertake in the past few years. (Much of the research is done in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the Togiak NWR lands that make up a large part of 17A.)
Barten continued to voice some concern about the moose in 17B and C. As part of a new project, they collared a bunch of cows recently and followed 34 of them that were pregnant this spring. Peak calving was May 19, and 31 of the cows had calves with them in late May. But the survivability of those moose, all east of the Wood River, was not good.
“Right now we’re sitting at four of those 31 cows that had calves still have calves,” Barten said. “On top of that, we lost four of our cows, which is pretty high mortality rate for four months.”
Fish and Game also collared eight yearlings in March. The average condition of those ten month olds was great, as they weighed 440 pounds, “which is really good,” said Barten, probably the biggest in the state.
“So we have good condition animals, things are looking really good from a nutritional standpoint, plus 65 percent of our cows had twins, it’s just that they didn’t survive very well this year,” he said.
Bears and wolves are probably to blame for most of the calf mortality, and the Nushagak AC and ADF&G are open to greater predator control efforts.
Last winter Barten was anxious about the low bull to cow ratio of 17B and C moose, especially in areas hunted heavily by Dillingham. He was nervous that one good snowy weekend could whack the local herd hard, though that scenario never seemed to happen.
The studies will continue for the next couple of years, maybe longer, funded by a huge increase in revenue thanks to record-breaking ammo sales during the Obama years. Barten guided the Nushagak AC towards caution towards endorsing any extra hunting effort in 17B and C, which recorded 174 bulls harvested this fall.
“We’re learning a lot about moose, but sometimes the more you know the more questions you have, and that’s kind of what we’re getting into,” said Barten. “There might be something going on that we are just picking up on, that we never were aware of because we didn’t have the data.”
But it’s a different story for the moose out west in 17A, which is largely inside of the Togiak Refuge. They seem to be doing just fine, perhaps too well, according to biologists.
A management plan developed in the late nineties put a population objective of 900 to 1350, which is based on the habitat and range size. A 2011 survey put the herd size at 1,166. This spring, extensive aerial surveys updated the estimate to 2,388 to 1,990, depending on the correction factor for “sightability.”
The harvest has consistently gone up too, from nine total taken in 2002 to 85 reported last year. And the bull to cow ratio, calf recruitment, and twinning rates all point to healthy 17A moose herd.
“We see this area has pretty high productivity, recruitment, and provides for a resilient population, so we think the moose population in 17A is doing pretty darn good. We’re at a place right now where we probably could offer more opportunity.”
That is what the Togiak Traditional Council is seeking with Proposal 138, which has been amended by the tribe to seek a full seven extra days to hunt bulls in the fall. The registration permit season would run from Aug. 25 to Sept. 27, a week longer into the fall than the current season.
Most of the Nushagak AC members voiced support for this extension, knowing that hunters tend to have more success later in the season, as bulls get more active in their rut. Skin Wysocki from Koliganek dissented though, reminding the members how they had worked to close 17B and C seasons off by Sept. 15 because the bulls take on an intense rut smell that taints their meat.
“You know how many good, big moose will be rotten and stinky, and you can’t eat, on the 25th? You got to be very careful, there’s going to be a lot of waste there,” he said.
Wysocki suggested a fall cow hunt as a possible better alternative to harvesting the surplus in 17A, but the Nushagak AC lent its support to 138.
Other proposals seek to add opportunity for non-resident hunters in 17A, who are currently afforded a very small window of time to hunt. The Nushagak AC maintained its local priority stance, offering no support to any proposals that would benefit outside hunters or the small guiding industry, even despite the large surplus of moose.
Manokotak resident Kenneth Nukwak is also asking the Board of Game to section the Weary River corridor in 17C for extra hunting time in the fall and winter. That area is primarily hunted by Manokotak residents, though in the winter, the Nushagak AC pointed out, Dillingham’s larger population would hunt it if it was open. Chairman Frank Woods said in his opinion there wasn’t enough data to support changing the seasons for that area, nor was vice chair Joe Chytlook in favor of drawing new special boundaries. Neither of Nukwak’s proposals met with support from the Nushagak AC.
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