Hunting Season Closed to Protect Nelchina Caribou

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The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has closed caribou hunting on land accessible from the Taylor Highway south of Chicken to protect animals from the Nelchina Herd which have moved into the area during the past week.

Effective Thursday night, December 8,an emergency order closes caribou hunting on lands in Unit 20E south of an east-west line which intersects the Taylor Highway at milepost 60. Milepost 60 is about six highway miles south of the village of Chicken.

Hunting under registration permit RC867 remains open in Units 20B south and east of the Steese Highway, 20D north of the Tanana River, 25C east of Preacher and American Creeks and the northen part of 20E. Hunters in 20E will need to travel north of Milepost 60 on the Taylor Highway to hunt.

The quota for the winter Fortymile caribou hunt is 378 animals. The hunt will close on February 28, 2006 or when the quota is met.

As they have since the mid 1980s, large numbers of Nelchina Herd caribou moved in to the southern portion of Unit 20E last week. In previous years, the Nelchina animals remained in the ara throughout the winter. Biologists aren't willing to predict if, when or where the caribou will move this winter.

"if the Nelchina animals stay in the southern part of 20E they'll be protected by this closure. If they move into other areas, we many need to take additional action at that time," said Tok Area Biologist Jeff Gross.

Hunters should call the caribou hotline at (907) 267-2310 or the Fairbanks Fish and Game office at (907) 459-7206 to hear the status of the hunt.

Under state hunting regulations, Nelchina caribou may be harvested only under a Tier II permit in Unit 13, or under federal subsistence regulations on federal lands. The federal subsistence hunting season for Fortymile caribou remains open on federal lands in the southern part of Unit 20E at this time.

The closure is not expected to reduce the chance to harvest Fortymile caribou. Less than 5% of the herd is in the southern portion of Unit 20E where the season is being closed.

"Most of the Fortymile herd is north of milepost 60," said Gross. "We need to let hunters know that if they see a caribou south of milepost 60, it's most likely not from the Fortymile herd, and it is not legal to use an RC867 permit south of Milepost 60 unless they are a federally qualified subsistence hunter hunting on federal lands.

Fish and Game staff from Tok will place signs along the Taylor Highway to notify hunters of the closure.

The idea of clsoing an area south of a straight line has worked well for the past two years and is the most efficient way to encompass the area where the Nelchina caribou are present. Many hunters now carry GPS units, or hunt the trail systems north of milepost 60, so finding the boundary has presented few problems.