Wildlife Officials Ponder Caribou

Tom Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / December 2, 2003

With the season opening of the winter Fortymile caribou hunt postponed and a good chunk of the herd camped near the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks, state wildlife officials are still trying to figure out when and how to open the season.

The winter hunt was scheduled to open on Monday but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game postponed the opening of the season late last week because they were worried that a large group of caribou was close enough to the highway that hunters would exceed the harvest quota if the season was opened.

There is a group of about 10,000 caribou within 6 miles of the Steese Highway near Eagle Summit, about 100 miles north of Fairbanks, and the harvest quota for the hunt is only about 270, said state wildlife biologist Jeff Gross.

"If we had opened it (on Monday), it would have been a slaughter," said Gross.

Gross said he and other biologists will discuss different options today as far as managing the hunt and an aerial survey of the herd will be conducted Wednesday, weather permitting, "to see what direction they're heading." After biologists determine what direction the herd is going, they will come up with a plan to manage the hunt, Gross said.

The Fortymile herd is the Interior's largest caribou herd with approximately 45,000 animals.

In a separate development on Sunday, Fish and Game closed hunting for Fortymile caribou in the southern part of Unit 20E off the Taylor Highway when the Nelchina Caribou Herd moved into the area over the weekend. About 6,000 animals moved across the Alaska Highway into the southern part of Unit 20E.

Hunters with permits for Fortymile caribou in Unit 20E must travel north of 60 Mile Taylor Highway to hunt. Fish and Game is enforcing a straight line that hunters must be north of before taking a caribou. The coordinates of that line are 64 degrees 0 minutes and 01 seconds.

Signs have been placed along the Taylor Highway notifying hunters of the closure.

The state's winter hunt for the Nelchina herd was recently canceled because the harvest quota is likely to be met between the fall harvest and the ongoing federal winter hunt. Hunters took 700 caribou during the state's fall Tier II subsistence hunt and the average harvest for the federal subsistence hunt is 390 animals.

Staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or tmowry@newsminer.com .


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