Concerns Rise Over Central Kuskokwim Moose Population

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A group charged with developing ideas to solve the problem of low moose numbers in the Central Kuskokwim area is turning to the public for reactions to their preliminary ideas.

Despite the attention focused on the McGrath area of Unit 19D, members of the Central Kuskokwim Moose Planning Committee have agreed that the situation further downriver in Units 19A & B is just as bad or worse, and there are more people who depend on moose for subsistence and other uses. Observations of local residents and hunters and available data indicate declining populations and very low percentages of bulls and calves in the moose population.

The Central Kuskokwim Moose Planning Committee which was established by the Department of Fish and Game last fall, is made up of people representing the Central Kuskokwim, Lower Kuskokwim, Anchorage and Mat-Su Advisory Committees, environmental interests, professional guides, transporters, and Native organizations. Board of Game member Ted Spraker serves as liaison to the committee.

The committee has discussed a variety of ideas during their meetings this winter. For Unit 19A, preliminary moose hunting recommendations for resident hunters include establishing a general hunt with antler restrictions or using registration permits for any bull and eliminating the winter season for bulls because cows are often taken. Antler restrictions already apply for nonresident hunters in Unit 19A and, in March 2002 the Board of Game closed corridors along the Kuskokwim and other major tributaries to nonresidents. The committee may recommend establishing a quota of 15 bulls for the maximum non-resident harvest in Unit 19A. In Unit 19B, the committee may recommend shortening the fall season by five days for both residents and nonresidents.

The committee has also agreed to support legislation to establish a Big Game Commercial Services board to regulate the number of hunting guides, transporters and clients in each Game Management Unit. A large number of guides and transporters operate in Units 19 A/B and currently few tools exist to manage them.

The committee is attempting to devise a plan that will lead to increased moose numbers in the future. Although a majority of the committee supports the concept of using predator control in the area, consensus has not been reached and recommendations have not been finalized. Even the most ardent supporters of wolf control on the committee agree that wolves are an important part of the ecosystem and if wolf predation control is used in the area, wolf populations will recover to pre-control levels or higher very quickly.

In the next few weeks Fish and Game staff will produce a newsletter to outline the preliminary recommendations of the committee and request comments from the public. The newsletter will be mailed to persons who have expressed interest in the process and will also be posted on the Division of Wildlife Conservation’s web site.

Later this summer the committee will review the comments and work with Fish and Game staff to draft a management plan. The plan is intended to restore the Central Kuskokwim moose population to provide for subsistence and a diversity of uses of moose, to manage predators and moose habitat, and to maintain the overall health of the ecosystem.

The plan and any related proposals to change regulations will be distributed for public review and considered by Advisory Committees this fall and then submitted to the Alaska Board of Game at their March 2004 meeting.

Management of moose in Unit 19A/B is complicated because there are local subsistence users, subsistence users who come into the area from Bethel and other communities lower down on the Kuskokwim River and guides and transporters who operate primarily in upland portions of Unit 19B.

Conducting an additional moose population survey in this area is a top priority of the Department. Last winter snowfall was not sufficient to conduct complete surveys, but they will be rescheduled for early next fall.