The Alaskan Federal Subsistence Board will soon vote on whether to close 60 million acres of land to non-local moose and caribou hunters. After postponing the vote for a year, the board must decide if non-federally qualified subsistence users can continue to hunt the land. The board will vote on the proposal on March 30, 2022.
The proposal, dubbed WSA21-01, has many hunting and conservation experts perplexed, as it seems to fly in the face of all big-game harvest science. Non-local hunters (those who would be banned) take about 350 bull caribou per year, which accounts for just three percent of the annual harvestable surplus in the area.
Additionally, biologists cannot find any evidence that non-local hunters cause changes to migration patterns. And finally, moose hunting is already severely restricted in the area for non-local hunters. This leaves many outdoorsmen wondering why moose are a topic of discussion with the caribou whatsoever.
To the board’s credit, participants recognized the seriousness of the implications in Aril 2021; and waited to consider all the facts. At a December 2021 meeting of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced a small drop in caribou population. But according to the department, who staunchly opposes proposal WSA21-01, non-local hunting is not to blame for the small drop.
The hunting restrictions on moose and caribou could cause tensions between local and non-local hunters
The Fish & Game department released a statement via its deputy commissioner Ben Mulligan on January 24, 2022.
“The rationale given does not meet the requirements for such a closure. Under the provisions of Section 8 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), the conservation of healthy populations of moose and caribou [does not apply]. Nor does it meet requirements for the continuation of subsistence uses of such populations. We viewaAny approval of the proposed closure as a violation of federal law; and we urge the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB) to follow the law and reject this proposal.”
Mulligan also explained that local subsistence hunters rarely hunt the same lands as non-local hunters; and that officials rarely, if ever, hear of any disputes between the factions whatsoever. Therefore, closing the federal land would move non-local hunters to state lands. Those lands are closer to the local communities of subsistence hunters.
The Alaskan Federal Subsistence Board said that the public can listen in to the meeting regarding moose and caribou hunting; but that it will not hear public sentiment on the day of the vote.
Local hunters or stakeholders can voice their opinions at an upcoming public hearing on March 21, 2022. The board will vote on the proposal about a week later, so this meeting is likely the last opportunity for the public to voice their concerns. The board members will not attend the meeting, however.