A new proposal could close two game units in Alaska to caribou and moose hunting for anyone not considered a subsistence hunter. This Friday, April 23, the US Department of the Interior will hold a public information hearing about the proposed closure of Game Units 23 and 26A, which equates to 60 million acres of federal land. If approved, only those considered “federally qualified subsistence users” would be permitted to hunt these two units from Aug. 1 through Sept. 30, 2021.
Subsistence users are primarily native, rural Alaskans, as opposed to Alaskans who live “in town” like Fairbanks or Anchorage, or nonresident hunters.
The region in question is home to the largest caribou herd in the state, according to Lone Star Outdoor News. Known as the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, it numbered an estimated 244,000 animals as of 2019. While that’s several hundred thousand fewer caribou than the 2003 high of 490,000, the 2019 count was still higher than 2016’s estimate of 201,000.
The proposal was introduced during the Northwest Arctic Subsistence Regional Advisory Council Committee meeting in February. The council has concerns with late migration patterns that interrupted the region’s fall caribou harvest, stressing local residents’ freezers, according to the meeting materials. Council members also stated that transporters and nonresident hunters in Units 23 and 26A may have impacted the Western Arctic Caribou Herd’s migration patterns. Limiting hunting in the area to only those who are “federally qualified” would “reduce aircraft traffic, creating an easier path for migrating caribou,” according to the meeting materials. The council also wants to close moose hunting in these two units to anyone who is not a federally qualified user because of dwindling moose populations.
Caribou are considered a staple to roughly 40 subsistence-based communities in northwest Alaska, according to the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group’s December 2019 management plan, and about 10,000 to 15,000 caribou are harvested from this herd by subsistence hunters every year since 2000. While nonresident/nonlocal hunters have, in the past, accounted for an additional 500 to 800 caribou harvested annually, that number has dropped to about 250 caribou per year since 2016 “due to various factors, including closures of some federal public lands to caribou hunting by non-federally qualified users.”
With such a low number of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd’s animals being harvested by nonlocal hunters, hunters in Alaska and beyond, plus a handful of hunting organizations, are opposing this public-land closure. They’re asking hunters to call in during the public hearing and let their voices be heard. Comments collected during Friday’s teleconference will be forwarded to the Federal Subsistence Board for consideration.
Public hearing information for Wildlife Temporary Special Action Request WSA21-01:
- Friday, April 23, 2021
- 3 to 7 p.m. Alaska Time Zone (or until the end of public participation)
- Teleconference, toll-free: (877) 918-3011
- Passcode: 8147177