FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has announced that the fall hunting season for Fortymile caribou along the Steese and Taylor highways is being delayed to avoid a Labor Day weekend slaughter similar to the one that occurred last year. The season is now set to open Sept. 3.
The two hunts were scheduled to open Aug. 29, the start of the Labor Day weekend, but state game managers announced late last week that the season was being delayed for five days “to minimize the risk of over harvest and increase the likelihood of a longer fall season.”
The delayed opening help lessen the chance of hunters taking the entire annual quota in the fall hunt, which would force the cancellation of the winter hunt, ADF&G spokeswoman Cathie Harms said.
“The goal is to make sure we have hunting in both the fall and winter,” Harms said.
The winter hunt was canceled last year after hunters exceeded the entire hunt quota of 1,000 animals during the fall hunt. The harvest quota is split between the fall and winter hunts, with 750 caribou allocated for four fall hunts and 250 allotted for two winter hunts.
Last year, hunters killed approximately 1,120 caribou during the fall hunt when large numbers of animals congregated along the road systems, making them easily accessible to hunters during the Labor Day weekend. The high harvest came even though the Taylor Highway hunt (Zone 3) was closed after just two days and the Steese Highway (Zone 1) hunt was closed after five days.
“Caribou have shown they can camp on the highways,” Harms said. “On a holiday weekend many more people have time to get out and history has shown when that happens and there are a lot caribou around that it’s relatively easy to exceed the annual quota in a short time.
“We’d rather avoid that,” she said.
The department is “still investigating” ways to allow limited harvest of caribou when they congregate along the road system, Harms said.
The season in two other, less-accessible areas (Zones 2 and 4) will open on Aug. 10 as originally scheduled.
The harvest quotas for the for fall hunts will remain the same, with 225 animals allotted to zones 1 and 4; 185 animals to Zone 2 and 340 animals to Zone 3.
In addition to delaying the opening date in the Steese and Taylor highway hunts, the department is continuing a hunt closure for caribou in southern unit 25B for the 2014-15 season.
During late-September 2013, the Fortymile Caribou Herd made a sudden movement north of the Yukon River into southern unit 25B near Eagle. That area has longer seasons and more liberal bag limits designed to accommodate migratory patterns of the much larger Porcupine Caribou Herd, which rarely approaches the Yukon River in the southern part of the unit, not the Fortymile herd. The movement of the Fortymile herd prompted managers to close the caribou season in southern unit 25B to prevent additional over harvest of Fortymile caribou
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.