The state Board of Game wrapped up its five day meeting in Kenai Tuesday, going through a long list of proposals to change many of the game management rules on the Kenai Peninsula.
The first four days of the Board’s meeting were dominated by staff reports from managers and biologists from the Department of Fish and Game about the state of brown bear and moose populations on the Kenai and public testimony, mostly about the proposals before the Board. That testimony was mostly unified either in favor of or opposition to those proposals.
On Tuesday, the Board voted on those proposals which could represent some significant changes for hunters on the Kenai. In general, the Board’s strategy is to continue with as many opportunities as possible for moose harvest while at the same time identifying ways to enhance habitat and decrease predation.
Department Biologist Jeff Selinger explained the Department’s reasoning for supporting continuing moose hunts on the southern Peninsula.
“There seems to be some late season habitat limitations. (The area in question) has maintained this hunt for a number of years, but we still see impacts due to moose browse, so we don’t know that we want to carry a whole lot more moose down there at this time,” Selinger said. Though the Department is authorized to issue as many as 100 permits for this hunt, Selinger said they would continue to issue just 50, as in years past.
Prior testimony from biologists and managers pointed to a lack of substantial forest fires in recent decades as one reason for significant declines in moose populations on the central and northern Peninsula.
In the absence of those habitat-creating fires, predator species are a target for helping the moose. State Game Division Director Doug Vincent-Lang said that as a part of that effort, aerial wolf hunting could be on the table, after the Board voted to allow it, though he did say there is an increased interest in harvesting more predators, namely wolves, during normal hunting and trapping seasons which needs to be taken into consideration.
“I’m concerned that removing wolves in this unit through aerial control could impact these opportunities, and the long term desire of people to solve the problem of wolf predation through general hunting and trapping regulations,” Vincent-Lang said.
He said it was apparent that there was a split between the public and Advisory Committees on support of the measure, but that he would make a decision on whether or not to start an aerial control program this year.
There wasn’t a lot of opposition to increasing predator control measures, but the Homer Advisory Committee did submit a statement requesting the Board further explore alternatives to these and other intensive management techniques. In general, the Homer AC supported the proposals intended to help maintain healthy moose populations, but was concerned that success in increasing the number of moose in 15A, the northern Peninsula, would actually be detrimental, as the existing population is already struggling to stay healthy with enough food and good habitat.
The other predator issue is an increasing population of brown bears. The Board heard many calls for increasing harvest opportunity for brown bears and did vote in favor of establishing a fall and spring bear hunt, open for drawing permits with a bag limit of one bear every four regulatory years. That was a proposal supported by the Homer AC, but how effective that strategy will be remains a question, as lands on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge are not subject to state guidelines and the Refuge sits on parts of all three Peninsula management zones.
One of the methods the Board adopted as a way to curb the brown bear population is allowing the incidental take of brown bears over black bear bait sites. Refuge Manager Andy Loranger said in earlier testimony before the Board that the refuge would not adopt that policy.
The Board did turn down a proposal to allow the use of motorized land vehicles, four-wheelers and snow machines, during certain hours in the Lower Kenai Controlled Use Area and another that would have extended the spring season for ptarmigan on the peninsula.