By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter
From March 15 to 19, the residents of the Kenai will have a rare opportunity to listen to and address the Alaska Board of Game on their own turf. It has been around 20 years since the BOG met in Soldotna, and there is every chance it will be 20 years after this session before we see them here again. Put another way, old folks like me will likely be pushing up daisies before it happens again.
Alaska residents have the unique ability to directly impact the regulations that govern the way they can put meat on the family table. They may address the BOG with written proposals for changes in regulations, written opposition to other proposals and in-person public testimony directly to the BOG.
Alaskans have 83 Fish and Game Advisory Committees statewide that address the BOG in all of the above listed manners and do so in representation of the individuals who elected them. Their meetings are announced and open to the public, and public opinion does make a difference.
Some folks would suggest that it is all political and what one might present will have no impact. Not true. The brown bear issue on the Kenai Peninsula is a case in point.
The 2010 and 2011 seasons were rife with brown bear issues in town, around rural home sites and in areas where anglers congregate. It was becoming increasingly evident that the population of brown bears had grown beyond anything anyone alive had ever seen on the Kenai.
In those years, and years before them, there was a limited amount of drawing permits issued for harvest of brown bears. Drawing permits have never been successful in taking many bears on the Kenai. There is too much heavy cover where they live, making spot and stalk virtually impossible.
Area hunters who have spent their lives on the Kenai were well aware of the population explosion since the unnecessary restrictions were placed on brown bear hunting years ago. In earlier times there was an open brown bear season in the spring, and in the fall there were a minimal number of bears taken and most were taken incidentally to other hunting.
But it was enough to keep them in check and there were virtually no brown bear issues before the restrictions were placed. Most folks who lived on the Kenai between 1970 and 2005 never saw a brown bear in the wild. Since 2005, it is not uncommon to see more than one in an afternoon drive from Kenai to Seward.
The Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee noted one constant in all of the meetings being held. Members of the public would come to the meetings and express their disappointment that nothing was being done about the numbers of brown bears that had become threats to public safety in local communities.
These members of the public were often not hunters, but they did want the luxury of allowing their children to play outside without fear of a brown bear coming along and having them for lunch.
So as the 2012 hunting season came around, the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Board held a meeting with the acting director of Fish and Game, Douglas Vincent-Lang, and the area Fish and Game supervisor, Larry Van Dale, regarding the brown bear issue and how we could go forward with additional hunting that would minimize their threat to the community.
The result of that meeting was an open registration hunt for brown bears on the Kenai in fall 2012.
At the upcoming board meeting there are several proposals that deal with brown bear issues, and it behooves anyone interested in continuing the efforts toward minimizing the threat of brown bears to the community to be present and speak. If you are not a city dweller and you try to obtain food for the table via a large moose, then the brown bear issue is equally important to you.
Moose calf survival on the Kenai has become a distant and forlorn hope. This is primarily due to predators, and the most prolific is the brown bear. Yes, some calves that live around urban and semiurban areas survive, but good luck finding one in any remote area.
The BOG is bombarded with written opposition to most hunting activities in the state. This opposition comes largely from groups that solicit members to write or sign a form letter and send it.
We are extremely fortunate to have a BOG that is intent on promoting the ability for Alaska residents to continue to harvest natural resources as a normal and healthy lifestyle. They seem to give much more credence to Alaska residents with these traditions in mind than special-interest groups that want to turn Alaska into the world’s largest viewing area.
Finally, residents of the Kenai Peninsula have Ted Spraker, who is not only on the BOG, but is the chairman. Spraker was the area game biologist in Soldotna for many years. He was, as far as any hunter that knew him, the preeminent game biologist, because he lived it. Spraker was constantly in the field professionally and as an individual hunter. He knew firsthand what was going on with game populations on the Kenai and was passionate about the traditions of hunting and game management.
Since his retirement, he and his wife, Elaina, have taken on the task of teaching young folks and women the traditions of hunting and shooting. They spend a great deal of time with teenagers, teaching them firearms safety and marksmanship, educational hunts and just allowing them a glimpse into the life of people who revel in the traditions of self-sustenance via hunting and fishing. They also spend a great deal of time with the Woman on Target program that brings firearms instruction to women in a way that is pleasant and effective.
This is a terrific opportunity for area residents to engage in the BOG process and see that their efforts can make a difference. Written comments on proposals must be in by March 1, and public comments are made by being at the meetings and signing up to speak.
You will be limited to five minutes, so it is worthwhile to spend some time organizing what you would like to say to be most effective. Proposals and other specific issues regarding the BOG are easily accessed at the BOG website: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=gameboard.main.
Steve Meyer has been a central peninsula resident since 1971 and is an avid hunter, fisherman and trapper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.