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Nelchina Solution

Game managers deserve credit for proposing something new

Opinion / Anchorage Daily News / February 22, 2005

A committee of sportsmen, subsistence advocates and Board of Game members has proposed a radical overhaul of the Nelchina caribou hunt.

Some fresh thinking on this problem is welcome.

First, what's the problem they're trying to solve?

Fundamentally, they're wrestling with a longtime challenge that promises to keep getting tougher: more hunters than game. That means hunts have to be managed and restricted.

In the particular case of the Nelchina subsistence hunt, game managers are trying to manage the harvest, yet open the hunt, and satisfy state law that says all Alaskans may qualify for subsistence hunting and fishing privileges.

Currently, a point system determines who gets to take Nelchina caribou. It's a system that invites abuse, virtually locks in permits for old Alaskans and locks out young hunters, and often is a far cry from just about anyone's definition of subsistence.

As board member Ron Somerville noted, anyone who can afford to head up to the herd with a motor home and a six-wheeler for 120 pounds of meat isn't hunting to keep the family fed.

Nothing against the sport hunter who fortifies the freezer, but let's not confuse recreation with subsistence.

Proposal 155 would open the hunt to all Alaskans -- with several tough conditions. First, a family would have to adopt the new Copper River/Cantwell Subsistence Community Harvest Area as their only hunting ground. They would have caribou and moose permits, longer seasons and likely more liberal bag limits.

But they wouldn't be allowed to hunt or trap anywhere else in the state in the same year, would have to salvage all of the animal and haul it back with meat still on the bone, and couldn't use motor homes or large ATVs in the hunt.

Instead of answering a point survey, hunters would have to answer a simple question for themselves: Is the Nelchina hunt worth giving up other opportunities?

Mr. Somerville said the hunt in one area reflects a traditional subsistence life.

What hunters stand to lose is the big 0205 -- the chance to hunt different game in different parts of the state, limited more by what a hunter could afford and what sustained yield would allow than by subsistence definitions.

That's going to happen more anyway. As Alaska's population grows, there will be more hunting pressure and the need for active management.

Proposal 155 aims to cull the non-subsistence hunters from the subsistence harvest, leaving genuine subsistence hunters -- or those willing to live with subsistence rules -- in the field.

This culling could benefit sportsmen by cutting subsistence take, leaving more animals for a potential sport hunt in the rest of the game unit.

Perfect solution? There is none. But this proposal restores meaning to the word "subsistence" while opening the doors to the hunt. It appears to be worth a try.

BOTTOM LINE: Nelchina caribou proposal looks good for subsistence hunters and long-range management.


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