FAIRBANKS - Saying it doesn’t have the technology to ensure fair treatment to all hunters, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Friday said it has canceled a special phone-in caribou hunt it had planned for Fortymile caribou along the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks.
The department received more than 60,000 calls in less three hours on Monday from hunters who wanted to get their names on a list to receive a permit for the hunt. The volume of calls overwhelmed ADF&G’s phone system, which crashed almost as soon as the calls started coming in, prompting the department to put the hunt on hold.
On Friday, the department announced they were canceling the special hunt — RC999 — because it doesn’t have the technology to make the call-in system fair. The department was supposed to start taking calls from hunters to be put on the list at 8 a.m. Monday.
“It appears that some people had a technological advantage,” ADF&G management coordinator Roy Nowlin said. “One hunter reported making more than a thousand attempts to call within two hours. Others living in areas with less modern phone systems didn’t have the same chance.
“It’s apparent that all hunters did not have equal access to this first-come, first-served process,” he said.
The hunt was designed to allow a harvest of up to 30 caribou along a section of the highway that was closed to hunting because thousands of caribou are congregated along the road and state game managers fear hunters would kill too many caribou if given the chance. The harvest quota for the entire Steese Highway hunt is only 150 caribou.
The department planned to put the first 100 people who called in on a list to receive permits and let batches of 15 hunters into the field for a week at a time until reaching the harvest goal of 30 caribou.
“This was a new hunt to provide limited hunting opportunity along the Steese Highway as an alternative to being completely closed,” Nowlin said.
ADF&G will work with the Fortymile Harvest Management Coalition, which is comprised of members of seven different local advisory committees, to seek a fair way of issuing permits for the special phone-in hunt, Nowlin said.
“We’re still committed to finding a way to allow some caribou to be taken along the highway without risking an overharvest,” he said.
Most of the normal winter Fortymile caribou hunt — RC867 — opened as scheduled on Dec. 1 but ADF&G closed a portion of Zone 1 that parallels both sides of the Steese Highway because of the large number of caribou along the road. The area of the hunt that is now open is 10 to 20 miles from the highway. A map of the open area is available at Fish and Game offices and on the department’s website.
The rest of the hunt areas in Zones 2, 3 and 4, including the Taylor Highway, are open.
The federal subsistence season seasons for Fortymile and White Mountains caribou remain open to federally qualified hunters on federal lands and are not affected by the cancellation of the road hunt.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.