Board of Game to consider proposed changes to regional moose hunt
The fall moose hunt around Nome has been ultra-competitive in recent years.
Hunters in Game Management Unit 22C know that each September they have only a short window to find a bull. For the last five years, about 100 hunters have received permits to compete for a quota of just 16 to 25 moose. The hunt opens on the first of the month and typically gets closed by an emergency order just a day or two later. Many subsistence users are left without a chance at harvesting hundreds of pounds of good meat for their families in a place where the cost of food is high.
In January, the Alaska Board of Game will consider a proposal from Kawerak that seeks to make the situation fairer.
The proposal asks the board to revisit the Amount Necessary for Subsistence, or ANS, for moose in all of Unit 22.
The Alaska Board of Game must set an ANS for a game population once it has been determined that there are customary and traditional uses of that species. For moose, that range in Unit 22 was set more than two decades ago, with 250 to 300 moose needed for subsistence. Kawerak argues in its proposal that this range needs to be updated, a change that they hope will open more opportunities for subsistence users.
The proposal used the example of the fall 2022 moose hunt in 22C to outline the problem. That hunt began on a Thursday and closed the next day—shutting out local hunters who couldn’t afford to take time off during the week.
“Many local residents have to wait for Friday evening right after work or even the beginning of the weekend to start a moose hunt,” the proposal said. It adds that these hunters are “put at an extreme disadvantage” and are not given “a reasonable amount of time to participate” in the hunt.
Earlier this month, the Northern Norton Sound Fish and Game Advisory Committee met in Nome and reviewed this proposal along with several other proposed regulatory changes for the region. The committee had to give recommendations to the Alaska Board of Game, which will meet in Kotzebue in a couple months.
Charlie Lean, chair of the Northern Norton Sound committee, said that there was some disagreement around the moose ANS proposal. It ultimately didn’t get enough votes to earn their support. The Southern Norton Sound Fish and Game Advisory Committee also voted it down.
“We didn’t think tweaking the numbers was going to change the number of moose on the land,” Lean said. “Biology’s biology. But none of us are happy to get a two-day opportunity to go hunting.”
Several members of the Northern Norton Sound group feared that a possible outcome of the proposal, if it passes, would be a much more exclusive Tier II hunt, Lean said.
In addition to providing for subsistence needs, the state is also supposed to follow the sustained yield principle. That means game managers can only allow the maximum harvest that does not lead to the game population being depleted.
If the number of moose necessary for subsistence is higher than the number it’s possible to harvest while maintaining a sustained yield, then the state might have to tighten hunting restrictions.
Right now, anyone can pick up a permit for the 22C hunt at the Nome office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. But under the Tier II system, moose hunters would get scored based on their experience and use of the resource. It’s likely that with so much demand for moose, those permits would only go to those with many decades of experience. Lean used the example of the Tier II chum salmon fishing permits that were instituted around Nome 20 years ago—anyone who wanted a permit needed to demonstrate 60 years of fishing participation.
Sara Henslee, the Nome-based ADF&G area wildlife biologist for Game Management Unit 22, said that determining the ANS is an extremely involved process that ADF&G’s Division of Subsistence takes on. Henslee didn’t want to speculate on whether the ANS would go up or down if the proposal passes. That would be up to the Board of Game to decide according to the data presented to them. But she added that the ANS would not change immediately if this proposal were to be adopted. The Board of Game could instead ask ADF&G to do a feasibility assessment for intensive management of moose in the region.
If eventually there is a higher moose quota for 22C, Henslee suspected that such a change might not help extend the length of the hunt, and that it would likely still be hard to break the cycle of competition.
“From what I can see, over 10 years of low quotas and corresponding lightning-fast emergency orders in 22C have trained hunters that in order to harvest a moose, you either need to really do your homework and have a bull lined up to harvest or you need to be really lucky during those two days the hunt is open,” Henslee said. “In other words, our moose hunters are extremely efficient! Honestly, I think even if we were to double the quota, the season would last one, maybe two more days max.”
Kawerak also proposed another regulation change that would close the nonresident moose hunting season in 22C.
The fact that permits can only be picked up locally between July 25 and Aug. 25 effectively shuts out a lot of nonresident hunters already. Each year since 2012, there have only been between zero and two nonresidents harvesting moose in the RM840 area, which covers the hunt in 22D Remainder, 22B West, 22C, 22D Kuzitrin, and 22D Southwest. Meanwhile, the average resident harvest over that time has been 19 moose per year.
“It’s low, but a lot of members of the Nome public will remind you that’s still one less moose for a Nome community member which is significant,” Henslee said.
The Northern Norton Sound committee voted to support that proposal. Lean said many of the committee members who voted against the other proposal saw this as a way to express their discontent about the hunt.
“We all are grumpy about the lack of opportunity,” he said.
The Alaska Board of Game considers proposals on a three-year cycle for each region. They will take up proposals for the Western Arctic/Western Region (Game Management Units 18, 22, 23 and 26A) during a meeting in Kotzebue’s National Guard Armory from Jan. 26-29, 2024.
The public can provide written comments on the proposals by 11:59 p.m. on Jan 12.
The proposal book can be viewed at www.boardofgame.adfg.alaska.gov
Comments can be submitted online through that website, by clicking on the Western Arctic/Western button under the subheading “Comments to the Board of Game.”
Comments can also be sent by fax (907-465-6094) or by mail: ADF&G Boards Support Section, ATTN: Board of Game Comments, P.O. Box 115526, Juneau, AK 99811-5526.