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Koyukuk River Moose Management Plan 2000–2005
— March 2001
The Koyukuk River Moose Management Plan (KRMMP) was developed through the cooperative efforts of the the Koyukuk River Moose Hunters' Working Group (KMWG or Working Group), Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G or "Department"), and other agencies. The KMWG is a citizen-based advisory body composed primarily of representatives from state Fish and Game advisory committees. The group also includes representatives from the federal Western Interior Regional Advisory Council and commercial operators. Agency personnel have been involved in the planning process as technical advisors.The recommendations of the Working Group were developed through a consensus decision-making process. The process was designed to develop recommendations in time for the March 2000 meeting of the Alaska Board of Game.
At the March 2000 meeting, the Board of Game adopted regulatory proposals that resulted from the planning effort with a few minor modifications. Later that spring the Federal Subsistence Board adopted several proposals to align federal regulations with those recently adopted by the state. The draft plan remained open for public comment through the fall 2000 hunting season. This provided an opportunity to evaluate how the new regulations were working before the draft plan was submitted to the Board of Game for final approval.
ADF&G's Division of Wildlife Conservation initiated the planning process in response to concerns about increasing numbers of hunters and harvest levels and potential affects on moose populations, primarily in the lower section of the Koyukuk River. In 1999, 731 hunters were checked at the Ella's Cabin checkstation and reported a harvest of 367 moose. This compares to 299 hunters harvesting 181 moose 11 years earlier in 1988. In addition to human harvest pressures, it appears that predators are having a significant influence. A survey conducted in spring 1999 indicated an approximate 17% increase in wolf populations over the 1994 estimate. Moose surveys conducted in fall 1999 indicated that moose populations have peaked and have possibly declined by 10% or more.
The KRMMP identifies separate management zones for the upper and lower Koyukuk drainage. These zones are based on differences in moose habitat, populations, and hunting pressure. Using numbers of hunters that participated in the hunt in 1998, the plan recommends establishing a baseline maximum number of hunters in the lower river. This recommendation is based on the consensus of Working Group members on the need to be cautious biologically, and to retain the quality of the hunting experience. The plan identifies the need to monitor harvest levels in the upper Koyukuk River and middle Yukon River area to be sure excess harvest does not develop from displacement of hunters from within the Koyukuk Controlled Use Area (CUA) or other reasons.
As a result of the planning effort, moose hunting regulations in the lower river within the Koyukuk CUA have been significantly changed. The general registration hunt on the lower Koyukuk River has been changed to a drawing hunt with separate resident and nonresident drawing pools. Separate resident and nonresident drawing hunts help to retain opportunity for nonresidents and commercial guides, but at a much lower level than has occurred in recent years. If resident demand continues to increase however, nonresident opportunity will have to be further reduced or eliminated. Because the plan is based on Alaska subsistence laws in which all Alaska residents are potentially qualified as subsistence hunters, there is potential for subsistence use to increase significantly. If this happens, further restrictive measures would likely be necessary.
As the need to stabilize moose populations in the Koyukuk has become evident and recommendations have been made to reduce human harvest levels, the KMWG strengthened its recommendations regarding control of predation. Initially the group focused on increasing opportunities to harvest predators. The group then agreed to recommend predator control, including aerial wolf hunting, and to urge preparation of an Intensive Management Plan.
The KRMMP includes recommendations that involve other agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or that may require legislative action. For example, the recommendation to revise the definition of wanton waste to allow for successful enforcement of cases where meat is removed from the field but is not kept in a condition suitable for human consumption likely requires legislation. Another recommendation requires hunters to hire guides and transporters that are properly registered with the state. The plan urges cooperation with FWS in matters such as enforcement of illegal guiding and transporting and habitat enhancement.
The KMWG met in December 2000 to review how the regulation changes worked during the fall 2000 hunting season and consider public comments on the draft plan. Members of the Working Group agreed that the fall 2000 season was greatly improved and that both local and nonlocal hunters enjoyed a much higher quality hunt than in the past several years. The group did not recommend any significant changes to the draft plan. The KMWG did agree to recommend that the group continue to meet annually, or more often if needed, to monitor implementation of the plan and possible changes in moose population levels or hunter numbers.
While the KMWG experienced disagreements along the way, members achieved consensus on most issues and exercised a great deal of cooperation and compromise. The Working Group is to be commended for their hard work and dedication to protect the moose resources of the Koyukuk drainage. The recommendations included in the KRMMP are designed to maintain opportunities and balance the interests of all users within sustained yield and the requirements of state and federal law.