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Alaska Board of Game meeting brings increased harvest opportunities across Western Alaska

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Alaska’s game management authority, the Alaska Board of Game, has increased some harvest opportunities for the area surrounding Bethel. The changes provide greater opportunities to harvest moose, wolves, brown bears, and ptarmigan, while keeping Mulchatna caribou and mainland muskoxen off-limits.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), the number of muskoxen roaming the mainland falls far below the 300 animals deemed the minimum for considering a hunt.

Patrick Jones, a biologist with ADF&G assigned to Unit 18, the massive management unit that includes Bethel, spoke at the Alaska Board of Game’s recent meeting in Kotzebue in support of continued muskoxen protection.

“We’re just not ready to have a hunt yet. This is a very small population, very few adult animals,” Jones said.

Jones said that illegal harvesting is likely hindering population growth, but also noted the need for increased research funding.

“There’s just more questions than answers. Is there one population here? Is there two? Is there three? I couldn’t tell you right now without that research funding,” Jones said.

Jones was one of dozens of speakers at the meeting, which takes place every three years and is held to consider management changes in the vast western reaches of the state. Board members heard proposals from ADF&G, individuals, and organizations throughout the region.

Phillip Peter Sr. testified as chair of the ADF&G advisory committee representing a dozen lower Kuskokwim River communities, and echoed calls for continued muskoxen protection. He also voiced support for proposals passed to increase brown bear, moose, and ptarmigan harvests, and one to extend the wolf trapping season by a month.

“This proposal would help [the] caribou population to come back faster,” Peter Sr. said, regarding the trapping extension.

Also citing the ailing Mulchatna caribou herd, a proposal from the Native Village of Kwinhagak for a two-week extension of the moose hunting season in the area passed unanimously. Kwinhagak Tribal Council member Jacqueline Cleveland testified in support.

“The Mulchatna herd has historically been one of the village’s primary food sources, and thus there is increased reliance on the moose hunt to meet subsistence needs,” Cleveland said.

Another moose proposal that passed will increase the allowable harvest to three animals in the Unit 18 remainder, site of the popular Yukon River winter hunt. With the population on track to outgrow its winter food source, this mirrors a move made by federal managers in 2021.

Alaska Board of Game vice-chair and Bethel resident Stosh Hoffman said that he has enjoyed seeing the moose population’s growth in the Unit 18 remainder over time.

“This is amazing to watch, and I’ve been tracking this. We’ve been liberalizing it for years,” Hoffman said. “I’m not worried about the moose population. It’s really just more opportunity for a very few people like the department stated, so I can support this.”

As for whether the proposals passed and rejected will ultimately be beneficial for game populations and the communities that rely on them, it will be another three years before the board comes back to the table to consider the state’s next steps.

Audio recordings and other materials for the Jan. 26 to Jan. 29 Alaska Board of Game meeting can be found here.

Evan Erickson is a reporter at KYUK who has previously worked as a copy editor, audio engineer and freelance journalist.
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