April 29, 2016
Legislators to put Power Cost Equalization excess earnings to other uses
By Associated Press
House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement for use of any excess earnings from a fund set up to help rural areas faced with high electricity costs. A conference committee Thursday agreed to legislation that would allow for 70 percent of excess earnings from the Power Cost Equalization endowment fund to be put to other uses. Sen. Lyman Hoffman says the remaining 30 percent of any excess earnings would revert to the endowment.
Wildlife Troopers find wanton waste of caribou in Kotzebue area
By Associated Press
Alaska State Wildlife Troopers are investigating two cases of wanton waste of caribou in northwest Alaska. Troopers found multiple cow caribou killed and left to waste near the Kauk River. Troopers found another kill site 25 miles northwest of the first on the lower Baldwin Peninsula. Three cows were killed and salvaged but two other cows were killed and wasted. Troopers also found a mortally wounded cow caribou.
Caribou hunting by non-locals closed in Northwest Alaska
By Laura Kraegel, KNOM – Nome
In the Northwest Arctic, caribou hunting has been contentious for years. Alaska’s largest herd continues to decline, ratcheting up tension between rural subsistence users and outside hunters. Last week, the Federal Subsistence Board voted to close the vast area to all but local caribou hunters. The closure will last for one year, but biologists aren’t sure it will make much difference.
From Kotzebue to Kobuk, from the Chukchi Sea coast to the northern Seward Peninsula, Game Management Unit 23 covers thousands of acres of federal public lands. Earlier this year, the Northwest Arctic Subsistence Regional Advisory Council called on the Federal Subsistence Board to close them all to non-federally qualified caribou hunters.
The Council argued the closure was necessary to conserve the dwindling Western Arctic Caribou Herd and to stop outside interference with subsistence.
“There’s a long history of user conflicts in Unit 23,” said Chris McKee, Wildlife Division Chief at the Office of Subsistence Management.
“We hear repeatedly from federal subsistence users: Outside hunters camping on traditional hunting grounds and a lot of other issues surrounding perceptions of wasting meat,” said McKee. “It’s something we’ve heard about for many, many years.”
His team of biologists is in charge of analyzing potential changes to federal wildlife regulations. The Board takes their analysis into consideration when approving or rejecting proposals.
“But this is a case where the Board actually went against our recommendation. OSM’s recommendation was to oppose the closure,” said McKee.
That’s because McKee and his biologists don’t think the closure will help conserve the herd. Hunters harvest about 13-thousand caribou in Unit 23 each year, with local residents accounting for approximately 94 percent of the total take. McKee says that means outsiders only harvest about 600 animals on average.
“You’re looking at five percent or less of the entire harvest in the unit. From a biological perspective, eliminating that 500 or 600 animal harvest is going to do nothing to change the trajectory of the herd,” said McKee.
Biologists estimate the Western Arctic Caribou Herd has about 200-thousand animals. That’s less than half the population of ten or 15 years ago. Biologists aren’t exactly sure what has caused the decline, but they say natural aging, decreased calf survival, and climate change are likely contributors.
Meanwhile, McKee says some rural residents blame outside hunters for flying over the herd and changing its migration patterns. McKee says biologists aren’t sure if that’s true. But even if it were, he says closing federal lands wouldn’t stop that problem because people can still fly to hunt other species or sightsee.
Still, the Board voted 5 to 3 in favor of the closure because of support from the regional advisory council and public testimony. In their analysis, OSM biologists wrote that at a February hearing in Kotzebue, the “vast majority of those present were in support of the special action request,” said McKee.
McKee says another factor was that the Board can only close Unit 23 to outsiders for one regulatory year. The council would have to propose another special action request to close it again next year.
“I think that was another consideration that played in the board’s mind, like, ‘Well, let’s see if it helps this one year and reevaluate,” said McKee.
McKee says he has been fielding frustrated calls from outside hunters who have already booked their trips and are now out of luck. The closure will also bar caribou hunting by Alaskans from urban areas and rural Alaskans who have since moved away.
The closure goes into effect July 1 and will last through June 30, 2017.