Early last week, the Seward Peninsula Subsistence Regional Advisory Council (RAC) met in Nome and voted to recommend several changes to the Federal Subsistence Board regarding moose regulation in Unit 22D Remainder.
On Tuesday the RAC meeting began with a series of local and regional subsistence reports. Council Member Elmer Seetot Jr. of Brevig Mission says last year’s retreating sea ice prevented subsistence hunters in his community from harvesting walrus. He did, however, mention a recent notable harvest.
“Beluga were caught at Cape Vert, first time I can remember in the spring harvest season. I think they were feeding on Arctic Cod in and around Cape Vert to Wales.”– Elmer Seetot Jr.
Seetot Jr., along with Council Member Deahl Katchatag of Unalakleet, expressed concern about seabird and marine mammal die-offs, both of which have been reported throughout the Bering Sea region.
Following individual reports, the Council moved swiftly through old business and began formally hearing wildlife proposals, which were presented by representatives from the Office of Subsistence Management (OSM).
Wildlife Proposals 20-39 and 20-40 were submitted internally by the Council and centered around restricting harvest levels in the hopes of mitigating a decade-long decline in moose population in Unit 22D Remainder. Megan Klosterman a wildlife biologist with OSM, explains the first proposal:
“It requests modifying the harvest limit for the December moose season in Unit 22D Remainder, from one moose to one bull.”
The cow-moose harvest in Unit 22D has already been closed for several years by special actions, but this proposal would cement that change into law.
The second wildlife proposal requests that Federal lands in Unit 22D be closed to moose hunting except by federally qualified subsistence users. This would prevent hunters from larger cities such as Anchorage, Juneau, and Kenai from flying in for the season. Existing legislation already prevents non-Alaskans from hunting moose in Unit 22D.
Both proposals were unanimously recommended by the Council.
Next on the agenda was a proposal submitted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game which contained several action items. Fish & Game Unit 22 Area Biologist Bill Dunker laid out the proposed changes.
“The proposal itself would shorten up the hunting season by eliminating the October 1st through November 30th season. It would make the winter hunt December 1st through Januray 31st a “to be announced season” winter season with an antler bull bag limit, and it would require all hunters hunting moose in 22D do so with a state registration permit.”
Some council members were apprehensive about the scope of the proposal, particularly the registration permit requirement. At one point, Council Member Seetot Jr. asked if ADF&G was incorporating traditional knowledge (TEK) into its rationale for the proposal.
“The other thing is that biologists are saying one thing, we are saying another thing. Under TEK that’s conflict. When we have conflict about natural resources, when we argue about stuff here, they won’t be here for long. Period.”
Seetot Jr. went on to ask if moose populations could be declining due to environmental pressures and not strictly because of over-harvesting. Dunker explained that yearly surveys of Unit 22 have found bull to cow ratios far below expected ratios and, in some cases, he described them as “mission critical.” Dunker says environmental pressures wouldn’t prejudice bulls alone.
After a lengthy discussion, the Council voted to recommend the proposal in its entirety.
The three recommendations will be presented to the Federal Subsistence Board in the spring of 2020. If the Board accepts them, they will become federal law.
Photo at top: Cow moose in winter. Photo from Douglas Brown via Flickr Creative Commons.