The deadline to report the outcome of your Kuskokwim moose hunt has arrived. If you received a permit to harvest a moose in Zone 2 of the Kuskokwim’s RM615 hunt and never got a moose, Tuesday, Oct. 15 is the last day to report that information. However, no matter what the outcome or zone of your hunt, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game wants to know how it went. Biologists are relying more on this information as warming winters make other survey tools less reliable.
You can report your moose hunt by mailing in the information on your permit, calling ADF&G, or going online to hunt.alaska.gov.
ADF&G Wildlife Biologist Patrick Jones says that the information helps the state manage the hunt. “Whether you went hunting or not, whether you were successful or not, that’s all useful in determining how much time we have next year and how we’re going to give permits out,” Jones explained.
Jones encourages all hunters who received Kuskokwim moose hunt permits to report the outcome of their hunt as soon as possible. ADF&G will send the names of permit holders who do not report to Alaska State Troopers. The permit holders who do not report could receive citations and be ineligible to receive a moose or caribou hunt permit next year.
This season, the state issued its usual amount of Kuskokwim moose hunt permits: around 1,500 for Zones 1 and 2. Zone 1 covers the Kuskokwim mainstem from just below Kalskag down to Eek, including the northern Kuskokwim tributaries like the Galic and Gweek rivers. Zone 2 covers the southern and eastern Kuskokwim tributaries, including the Tuluksak, Kasigluk, Kisaralik, Kwethluk, and Eek Rivers.
ADF&G set a harvest goal of 180 moose for Zone 1 and 100 moose for Zone 2. Jones expects that they fell short of those goals in both areas. Stormy weather in early September kept some hunters from getting out in Zone 1. Low water in the Kuskokwim tributaries prevented hunters from reaching the moose in Zone 2.
Jones says the benefit of reaching the harvest goal is to provide more meat to subsistence families. “As far as the biology of the moose population," Jones said, "there’s no negative to not reaching that goal. It’s just what the herd can support now, while it’s still growing.”
That growth rate is about 20 to 30 percent per year. The hunt allows hunters to take 10 percent of the population. Biologists estimate that there are 2,000 moose in Zone 1 along the Kuskokwim mainstem, and 800 moose in Zone 2 along the tributaries, but those estimates are not as solid as Jones would like. The gold standard for gathering moose counts is to fly an aerial survey and tally the moose from an airplane, but that hasn't happened for two years because of early snowmelt.
“To do a good number, we need a foot of snow to see tracks and to see moose," Jones explained. "Preferably in late February or early March when we have enough daylight to fly long hours.”
Early snowmelt preventing aerial survey counts is a growing issue facing biologists across Alaska, and the scientists are experimenting with different approaches around the issue. In the Interior and Togiak, biologists are comparing aerial survey counts to the number of radio-collared moose in an area. Along the Kuskokwim, biologists are inferring the population numbers using browse surveys, which determine the amount of an area’s winter food the moose are eating.
“Luckily, we can go back in time, and we did population counts and browse surveys in the same year, and we can tie those two numbers together pretty well,” Jones said.
The Kuskokwim area has other metrics as well. ADF&G conducts spring twinning counts, calculating the number of cows birthing two calves compared to one. Another count in the fall measures how many of those calves survived, as well as the ratio of adult bulls to cows. All the Kuskokwim moose counts indicate a healthy, growing population that could double in the coming years.
Meanwhile, biologists are also tracking moose populations along the Yukon River in the Unit 18 Remainder. The population below Mountain Village is around 8,000 animals and rapidly growing. However, the population near Russian Mission is declining, dropping to a low of 4,000 animals. Surveys indicate that there is not enough food to sustain the local moose population at its current size. ADF&G attached radio collars to moose in that area this past spring to track mortality and whether the moose are moving to other areas.