During its recent meeting in Fairbanks, the Alaska Board of Game voted down a proposal from the National Park Service that sought to close parts of an area known as the Stampede Corridor that runs along an eastern boundary of Denali National Park to the trapping and hunting of wolves for most of the year. That was among the various decisions made by the board, which concluded its nine-day meeting on Saturday.
According to current board chair Ted Spraker, this is the second time in the last decade that the board has voted down a proposal relating to the establishment of a buffer zone on the eastern edge of the park in order to protect wolf packs in the area.
“The main essence of that proposal is that, first off, I think it was inappropriate for the National Park Service to put a proposal in asking the state to give up that acreage in state land, basically for it to be added to the park,” Spraker said. “I can’t see that the Department of Fish and Game has ever put in a proposal, asking for a hundred miles of National Park land to be set aside for hunting, fishing.”
The National Park Service’s proposal requested that certain portions of Game Management Unit 20C be closed to the taking of wolves by hunting from Feb. 1-July 31 and by trapping from Feb. 1-Oct. 31 The closure of the roughly 152 square mile area proposed by the Park Service would have seen the wolf hunting season cut by a third of its current length in days and wolf trapping season cut by half.
In a statement of purpose, the Park Service focuses on wolf-viewing opportunities for tourists, which it said contribute to the over $2 billion in annual economic activity related to wildlife viewing. According to the Park Service, wolf-viewing opportunities in Denali are primarily provided by one to three packs of wolves which are active near the Park Road during the summer months — and which tend to drift into the Stampede Corridor. The intent of the proposal is to protect these wolves during breeding season, February-April.
The Park Service argues that seasonal closure of the corridor would result in a “impact for a few with a positive outcome for many,” citing the 400,000 annual visitors to the Park versus the one to three trappers who are active in the area in any given year.
According to Spraker, the proposal was discussed at length, before being voted down unanimously.
Spraker said that the issue should have been addressed by agencies working together, rather than put through the Board of Game process. He added that the Park Service could also have taken their concerns to the very small number of trappers who are active in the area, and worked out an agreement with them directly. He said that board members pointed to health numbers of wolves in the park and some expressed their doubts over the impact that restricting the limited number of trappers would achieve.
“I’m not convinced, and I don’t know of any biologists who are convinced, that the buffer is large enough to really protect those wolves,” he said. “These wolves really move depending on where food is available. The bottom line is, I think if the NPS is so interested in protecting these wolves, that they would be willing to make a land trade.”
Antlerless moose hunts
Among the more contentious proposals, according to Spraker, was proposal 140. Submitted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the proposal sought to reauthorize the antlerless moose seasons in Unit 20B, the Minto Flats Management Area, in order to keep the population healthy and at a sustainable level of 12,000-15,000 animals.
“That was a really huge issue. We had probably 20 or more people testify in opposition to that one,” Spraker said. “However, the board adopted it. The vote was 6-1. The reason the board adopted it is the science supported it.”
According to Spraker, data collected by the department shows that if the population becomes too high, habitat degradation and other factors can ultimately lead to a drop in population levels. Subsistence hunters from the Minto area, however, attended the meeting to express concerns about losing hunting opportunities.
“The people of Minto were really concerned because, last year, we had to close the area for cow hunting because they hit the quota,” Spraker said. “The board understands and we appreciate their comments.”
Spraker noted that the department will ensure that a number of moose are allocated specifically for potlatch hunts and that stipulation “satisfied everyone’s concerns.”
“If the sustainable level is reach, we’re still going to close cow hunting around Minto — but we’ll still have it open for bull hunting as it pertains to funeral potlatch hunting,” Spraker said, adding that he felt it was a situation in which “everybody wins.”
Another set of proposals that caused a stir, were those submitted by the Resident Hunters of Alaska, a group dedicated to advocating for a greater level of resource-allocation for Alaska residents as opposed to nonresident hunters. Formed in 2016, the 2000-member-strong organization seeks “resident priority to our game resources for future generations of Alaskans through clarification and amendment of our current laws,” according to its website.
This year, the group submitted a variety of proposals, all of which seek a similar outcome. Proposal 52, for example, sought to change the nonresident general season sheep hunts in Units 20 Remainder and 19C to drawing permit hunts, with a limited allocation of up to 50 permits. Currently there are no limits on nonresident opportunity for these hunts and, according to the group, “consistently, the nonresident sheep harvests in Unit 20 Remainder and 19C are at or near 60%-80% respectively.”
According to Spraker, the board voted against all but one of the proposals, which only passed after an amendment was introduced by the board to temper its outcome.
“They basically all failed, except for one. That was one where they wanted only 10% of the Delta Caribou harvest to be going to non-residents,” Spraker. “What the board did is amended the proposal so that up to 25% can go to non-residents and that will keep the status quo.”
Spraker noted that non-residents are currently taking around 20% of the harvest.
A new moose
Among the Fairbanks-related proposals that the board voted to pass was proposal 134, which seeked to authorize a new youth hunt for moose in Unit 20C.
“That’ll be a good hunt,” Spraker said. “This is for any bull and it’s before the regular season starts. It’s in late August.”
The new hunt is for residents only and will take place Aug. 25-31. The proposal was submitted by Paul Nyberg, who wrote: “Unit 20C is a great place with easy access to introduce youth hunters before the chaos of general season.”
Spraker said that, in order to participate, the young person must be between the ages of 10 and 17, must have completed basic hunter education, and be accompanied by an adult over the age of 21. The youth hunter and the adult must both have moose tags.
“These have been very, very popular in the state,” Spraker said. “And this is the first one that’s just an open youth hunt, so they don’t have to participate in a draw.”
Spraker, who has served on the board for six terms, is now in his final year of chairmanship. As such, the meeting was a meaningful one for him.
“I just thought I would step down and let someone else move up to my position. I’ll tell you being on the board has just been an absolute honor,” he said. “I’m gonna miss it, but it’s time to move on.”
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.