By Jenny Neyman
Moose numbers may not be what they once were on the Kenai Peninsula, but hunting regulations moved a small, spiked step closer to what they have been in the past, as the Alaska Board of Game enacted measures liberalizing harvest opportunities for several species and extending predator control measures on the Kenai Peninsula, during its Southcentral Region meeting March 15 to 19 in Kenai.
The board passed several measures relating to moose hunting, meant to balance harvest opportunity while protecting the diminished population.
Moose numbers in Units 15A and 15C have fluctuated over the decades but have shown consistent decline since the 1980s, largely due to limited habitat availability — particularly in 15A in the northwestern central peninsula, and also predation, road kills and hunting pressure. Two years ago the board enacted strict hunting regulations to limit the moose harvest and improve the ratios of bulls and calves to cows, with only bulls with a 50-inch-or-greater antler spread or four brow tines on one side being eligible for harvest. According to ongoing studies done by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, moose are still struggling in 15A.
“To me the most telling statistic is the declining moose abundance trend we are seeing. Not only are we well below our intensive management objective, but our population is declining annually with no sign of stabilization or growth,” said Doug Vincent-Lang, director of the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation.
There’s better news in Unit 15C, south of Tustumena Lake, where moose numbers are higher and the bull-to-cow ratio has improved since 2011.
“We have information that suggests habitat is not limiting moose production in this unit to the extent that it is in 15A. Bottom line is that we’re below harvest goals but within population goals,” Vincent-Lang said.
Proposal 143 suggested loosening the hunting restriction to bulls with a 50-inch or greater antler spread, or four brow tines or a spike on one side — essentially moving some of the wiggle room in the rebuilding moose population to potential harvest.
“It’s been stated that you can’t bank moose, and I think that’s very true, particularly in 15A,” said Jeff Selinger, Kenai area wildlife manager for Fish and Game. The department recommended adoption of the amended Proposal 143.
Not all hunters want the extra wiggle room in harvest, however. Several members of the public and representatives of area Fish and Game Advisory Committees requested that the board leave the 2011 restriction in place to help the moose population continue to rebound.
“An overwhelming majority of the moose-hunting public supports leaving the restriction as it is. They’ve seen it has had a positive impact. Let’s leave it in place a good four to five years to make a big impact,” said Bob Ermold, with the Kenai-Soldotna Advisory Committee.
Board members, rather, saw the population as stable enough to support additional harvest.
“There has been public testimony asking us to retain (the current regulation). That being said, I think it’s important to retain the structure but allow opportunity to harvest a few more moose. I think that’s an appropriate step for now,” said Nate Turner, vice chair.