Year in Review 2020: Wildlife and Hunting
KDLG takes a look at wildlife and hunting, including stories about a rare muskox sighting, hundreds of missing caribou and some of the fattest bears in the state.
Hunting, fishing, and practicing subsistence in Bristol Bay were welcome reprieves from being cooped up and isolated this year.
But the pandemic affected who hunted this year. Ryan Scott, an assistant director for Fish and Game, said some hunters weary of quarantine and travel restrictions were hesitant to visit.
“I think a lot of hunters are having to really think through how to accomplish the hunt that they want to do and do it responsibly,” Scott explains, “I talked to a fair number of them at this point and they are taking it very seriously."
Management of caribou on the Nushagak Peninsula fluctuated throughout the year. At the outset of the season, federal managers were concerned about lichen there. Andy Aderman, a biologist with Togiak Wildlife Refuge, said caribou on the peninsula had diminished the flora by eating it and trampling it underfoot.
if there’s less snow on the ground lichens could be crushed by caribou. They’re also more accessible and can be eaten that way.
But this summer, around 200 caribou went missing from the peninsula. Biologists expected a population of around 400 animals, but three aerial surveys confirmed only 200 in the area.
“Last year there was basically a couple hundred animals we’re not exactly sure what happened to them,” explained Kenton Moos, the manager of the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.
That meant less subsistence hunting for residents in communities like Manokotak, which received just five permits in August for bull caribou.
“Hunting is a big thing, especially for subsistence of big game such as moose and caribou,” said Tribal administrator Melvin Andrew. “Caribou is one of the things that we utilize because it’s just down from our river system, Igushik. Not only is fish important, but also big game such as caribou and moose. It’s our main diet throughout the year, so it’s very important.”
Unit 17 A saw growth in moose populations. But moose in other areas of the region seemed to be on the decline, and the December moose hunt was closed in units 17 B and C.
“We’ve documented really low survival and recruitment of moose calves in 17 and 17C. That issue may have been going on longer before we started to document that issue," said Todd Rinaldi, the Region Four management coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "But the fact that the population has been in decline and that the productivity and survival is low, we are concerned for the population in 17C.”
This fall also brought a rare muskox sighting in Manokotak. Melvin Andrew and his wife Sally spotted the animal on the road.
“She said, ‘a moose! A moose!’ But when I spy-glassed it I saw the telltale sounds of muskox horns. I said some explicit words like, what is he doing here,” Andrew said.
Biologists think the muskox migrated south from the Yukon-Delta National Wildlife Refuge.
Large salmon runs seemed to bolster bodacious bears this fall.“This is probably the fattest fat bear week ever," said Naomi Boak, a media ranger for Katmai National Park. “We had the largest salmon run ever, we had 800,000 salmon come through the Brooks River.
Katmai National Park hosts Fat Bear Week each fall, an online event where fans of the park vote on which bear is deemed the most corpulent of the ursine behemoths.
The park partners with explore.org to livestream videos from Brook’s Falls where viewers can watch as bears catch fish swimming upriver. *image of the bracket*
Bear 747 was crowned the King of Chonk, amassing more than 41,000 votes and estimated to weigh 1,400 pounds. It was his first time as the winner of the competition; he had been a contender in previous years and was declared runner-up in 2019.