Muskox hunt canceled after illegal harvest
A limited subsistence hunt of muskox in Northwest Alaska has been canceled for the 2013-2014 season following the discovery of five illegally taken carcasses.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game suspended the five permits it had planned on releasing for public use in Unit 23, northwest of the Noatak River.
The illegal harvest was discovered during a February fly-over of the area, said ADF&G biologist Jim Dau of Kotzebue.
"One of the planes found what they thought were a couple of dead muskox," Dau said. Alaska State Troopers were notified, and Wildlife Trooper Justin McGinnis flew to the site to find five dead muskox cows.
"He was certain they had been shot and left," Dau said. "When the trooper got up there and found five cows that were dead, we thought, we've already taken more than we wanted to take."
The Tier II harvest allows five bulls to be taken for subsistence use, not cows.
That particular hunt has been running for more than 10 years, Dau said, and runs from August until March. But not this year.
The limited permits aren't easy to get. Interested applicants answer multiple questions to help ADF&G gauge their need for subsistence access. That includes information about where they live, cost of food, cost of gas, the amount of time the hunter has spent in or lived in the area, that hunter's history with the region and the hunt, and many other factors.
Applications are then scored, and the top scores are chosen to receive a permit. Only if several people tie in the high score range does the permitting process then revert to a lottery style system.
"It's a very restricted pool," Dau said. "It's not like the recreational hunts."
When the illegally taken cows are added to the five legally taken bulls from the 2012-2013 season, management decided herd conservation required a hunting hiatus.
The National Parks Service also issues a federal muskox hunt, giving out only two permits each year.
The northwestern muskox herd was estimated at 227 at last spring's count, Dau said, and it's been changing.
That particular herd has been migrating in recent years, Dau said, away from the core coastal range they've typically inhabited. They've moved toward Unit 26A, between Cape Lisburne and the Alaska-Canada border, and the foothills of the Brooks Range.
"It's much bigger than it was 15-20 years ago," Dau said of the herd. Those increasing numbers were what allowed them to open the hunt again a decade ago he said, but protecting that growth requires tight regulation and conservation decisions when numbers are threatened.
Hannah Heimbuch can be reached at email@example.com.