Fortymile Caribou Hunt to Open Saturday


Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / December 4, 2003


Now that the Fortymile Caribou Herd has moved off the Steese Highway, hunters will finally get their shot at the Interior's largest caribou herd.

The winter hunt for Fortymile caribou off the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks will open on Saturday after being suspended for five days because state wildlife officials were worried hunters would shoot too many animals.

An aerial survey on Wednesday revealed that the 10,000 or so animals wandering in close vicinity of the highway near Eagle Summit were spreading out and moving away from the road, said information officer Cathie Harms with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"The immediate danger of overharvest is low," she said. "There are caribou still in the area but they are nowhere near as concentrated as they were. They're more dispersed."

The quota for the Steese Highway hunt (hunt identification number RC867) is approximately 150 caribou, about half the 302 winter quota established by Fish and Game for the Fortymile winter hunt. The other half of the winter quota is reserved for a hunt off the Taylor Highway in Unit 20E.

The Fortymile herd caught hunt managers off guard late last week when about 10,000 caribou showed up near or on the Steese Highway just a few days before the hunt was supposed to open. Rather than risk killing more animals than is dictated in the herd's harvest plan because the caribou were so accessible, state wildlife officials opted to postpone the opening of the season.

Poor weather prevented biologists from doing an aerial survey of the herd until Wednesday and most the caribou had dispersed far enough from the road to open the hunt without any added restrictions, Harms said.

A check station on the Steese Highway will be set up to help monitor the hunt, Harms said. While it isn't mandatory, Fish and Game is asking hunters to stop at the check station to turn in their permits if they did get a caribou.

"We're going to monitor this hunt very closely," Harms said.

The state has spent the past seven years rebuilding the Fortymile Herd, which has doubled in size to about 45,000 animals since a recovery plan was put in place in 1995.

"We don't want to do anything that compromises that management plan or the harvest plan," said Harms.

Hunters who obtained permits before the season was delayed do not have to get a new permit, she said.

Harms advised hunters to call the Fortymile caribou hunt hot line (267-2310) daily to check on the status of the hunt.

This winter's Fortymile hunt has left both hunters and wildlife officials scrambling because of the unpredictable nature of caribou herds.

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.

No hunting for Fortymile caribou is allowed on the first 60 miles of the Taylor Highway.


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

 


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