Moose hunting in Game Management Unit 23, including the winter cow moose hunt, is now closed to non-subsistence users based on a recent Federal Subsistence Board decision.
According to a statement from the Board released Thursday, there are several factors that have led to what they call “serious population viability concerns” for moose in that area. Chris McKee, the Wildlife Division supervisor for the Office of Subsistence Management, says the data shows moose in Unit 23 are declining.
“Well, we have the updated 2018 moose populations estimates for all of Unit 23, which is about 6,300 moose, and that’s down 16% from an estimated 7,500 moose in 2017. So, we are looking at a 16% decline in one year, and that’s from a population perspective, and we have pretty low calf-cow ratios throughout the unit.”
McKee reiterates that some survey areas have better cow-to-calf ratios than others within Unit 23, which covers a land mass stretching from the Kotzebue Sound, over the entire Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, and up to Cape Lisburne.
According to McKee, about 70% of all moose in Unit 23 reside in the Selawik, Lower Noatak, and Lower Kobuk census areas, all three of which have experienced greater than 40% population declines since 2011. The Office of Subsistence Management did not have the exact unit-wide moose numbers from 2011 available.
McKee says harvestable estimates for federally qualified subsistence users are normally between 300 and 450 moose, and in this case, the harvestable surplus has already been reached or exceeded that normal range for Unit 23.
“The Department of Fish & Game calculates the harvestable surplus of moose in Unit 23 as 6% of the population. So, the unit-wide population estimate was 6,300 moose in 2018, so that would mean the harvestable surplus is at 378 moose.”
The Federal Subsistence Board believes closing the winter cow season now, before the scheduled season end date of December 31, will help the moose population in Unit 23 “recover more quickly and prevent further declines.” But if things don’t improve and if the numbers get bad enough, then McKee says the Federal Subsistence Board can close all moose hunting in Unit 23 to all users, subsistence and non.
As it currently stands, the Board’s decision still allows federal subsistence users to participate in the Unit 23 winter bull moose season.
“So, the federally-qualified users can still harvest bull moose on federal lands, but non-federally-qualified users cannot harvest moose through December 31st on federal lands.”
Ultimately, this decision by the Board came from a member of the public through an Emergency Special Action. And according to McKee, if the Federal Subsistence Board receives a special action request or proposal to close Unit 23 moose hunting further, it will take that into consideration; otherwise, non-federal subsistence users won’t be able to hunt moose in the unit again until July 1s, 2019.
Image at top: photo credit: Douglas Brown via Flickr / Creative Commons.