FAIRBANKS - With the winter hunting season for the Fortymile Caribou Herd two weeks away, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is working on options to avoid an over-harvest in case thousands of caribou are near the Steese Highway.
The winter Fortymile registration permit hunt is scheduled to open Dec. 1 along both the Steese and Taylor highways, but spokeswoman Cathie Harms said the department will make a decision no later than Nov. 26 on whether the Steese Highway hunt will be modified.
The harvest quota for the Steese Highway portion of the hunt has traditionally been 150 caribou. Game managers are concerned about an over-harvest if there are lots of caribou milling along the road, which was the case a week ago, Harms said.
“Last we heard, they were standing on the road,” she said.
Even if there is a significant number of caribou along the Steese, the department could slow the harvest by limiting the number of hunters allowed in the field at one time, Harms said. The department is considering a scenario in which hunters — Alaska residents only — would call in to get their names put on a list on a first-come, first-served basis. The department would then permit a certain number of hunters in the field.
“We’ll have a date to call in and a phone number,” she said. “We’ll accept phone calls on that single number until we get 100 names on the list. The first 10 to 25 hunters will be given an opportunity to harvest a caribou, even if they are (near) the road.”
The Fortymile harvest plan allows for as much as 20 percent of the winter quota to be take that way, which means the department could allow as much as 30 animals taken in the Steese Highway hunt.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to provide a small amount of opportunity even if the caribou are there,” Harms said.
The last few years, the department has been forced to delay the opening of the hunt because there were too many caribou close to the road. It also has closed down the hunt after only one day after hunters reached the harvest quota.
“Ideally, we’d wait until the last possible second to make a decision, but then nobody has got any time to plan,” Harms said.
Managers are hoping the caribou will disperse away from the highway in the next week or two. If the caribou do move away from the road, the hunt will go off without a hitch, Harms said.
Likewise, as long as there aren’t many caribou near the Taylor Highway, that hunt will open as scheduled on Dec. 1. The quota for the Taylor Highway hunt will most likely be 100 caribou.
The winter quota of 250 animals is split between the Steese and Taylor highways, with 60 percent of the harvest going to the area with the most caribou.
The department will conduct reconnaissance flights of the herd in the next week and a half to track the caribou, as well as to monitor satellite collars on the caribou.