Anderson, Carey Discuss Issues In Soldotna Mayoral Race

The special election for Soldotna Mayor is coming up Tuesday with former Mayor Dave Carey and current City Council member Dr. Nels Anderson on the ballot.
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There aren’t too many degrees of separation between the two candidates in terms of their vision for the future of Soldotna. Both are interested in promoting tourism and local business growth and both see the City and as playing an important role in that promotion. Carey, a former three term mayor of Soldotna and a one term Borough mayor had positive things to say about his predecessor, now-state Senator Peter Micciche, but, Carey says his main concern is with the city’s finances.

“If (the City) is indeed going to keep taking in more money each year than they’re going to spend, I’d like to see, I’d like to see a clear statement of what it’s committed to, or I’d like to see a reduction in the surplus,” Carey said.

For fiscal year 2012, the city did take in about a million more dollars than it spent, ending with a balance of 20.2 million dollars in the general fund. Those numbers follow a recent decrease in the property tax or mill rate for residents. Carey says the city should look at lowering that rate even more or eliminating property taxes all together. His opponent, current council member Dr. Nels Anderson isn’t so sure. He says with a good chunk of the city’s revenue coming from state and federal grants that may not always be there, there’s a need for local contributions to pay for municipal projects.

“I think we oughta have a skin in the game and property taxes, even at very low rates, keep people involved in the game. We all want to keep taxes as low as possible. It’s a question of what are our prospects for the future,” Anderson said.

Anderson, whose public service also includes 15 years on the School Board before he began his current term on the Council, says some of that budget surplus is spoken for by deferred maintenance projects for things like roof repairs to the Soldotna Sports Complex. Both agreed that that facility would be a focal point in realizing the city’s Envision Soldotna 2030 plan.

“There needs to be some additions to the Sports Center. There are some issues with being right outside a hockey locker room and going to a facility where a little more uppity-up activities may be going on than the locker room of a hockey team,” Carey said.

“If we’re going to really turn that into a center that would be useful for those things, we’re going to have to make some big additions. I personally favor that. But any major additions are going to go to the voters first. The voters are going to make that decision,” Anderson said.

Beyond that, both candidates offered support for expanding funding in the city’s Storefront Improvement Program, which is designed to give local businesses small loans to help with design and engineering costs associated with sprucing up their facilities.

Anderson and Carey made their comments on Wednesday’s edition of the Coffee Table program that aired on KDLL. Voters will be able to cast their ballots at Soldotna City Hall Tuesday from 7 am to 8 pm.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Alaskans March To Choose Respect

On Thursday, Alaskans in 140 different communities came together to rally in support of Choosing Respect. The rallies are part of an initiative started by Governor Sean Parnell in 2009 to address issues related to domestic violence and assault. The Leeshore Center in Kenai and the Haven House in Homer sponsored rallies on the Kenai Peninsula.

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL, Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-


Looking for the Right Fit At the Peninsula Job Fair

Hundreds of job seekers came out for the annual career fair at the Kenai Peninsula Job Center Wednesday. There’s no shortage of companies looking to hire, the trick is finding the right match.

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Heather Duffy isn’t here because she needs a job. She just wants a better one.

“I’m looking for something to better my future, so something a little more skillful, something with better benefits, higher pay, better schedule.”

Duffy is 19, has a job at a local pizza shop and a year of college under her belt and came to the job fair at the Kenai Mall with her resume in hand, hoping to find the best fit for her skillset and what she wants in a job, maybe with the Alaska State Troopers, one of the dozens of booths Duffy stopped at to learn more about prospective employment.

The Peninsula Job Center puts on the fair each year, and they have people like Business Connections Specialist Jackie Garcia who can help people like Duffy find the right match.

“This is a community event, and so the whole idea is to try and encourage the employers to hire local,” Garcia said. “Right now we are pretty busy. Lots of the employers are saying they’re going to be pretty busy. The Job Center has been averaging close to 500 people per week,” she said.

That more people have been coming to the Job Center looking for employement isn’t too surprising, given the numbers. According to the state Department of Labor, the Kenai Peninsula Borough had an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent in February, down a tick from January but part of an up and down pattern in the rate going back the last five years, when unemployment was at its lowest in 2008 at 7.9 percent.

There’s a wide variety of companies and organizations at the fair including non-profits and schools, retail businesses, oil services, the armed services, fishing businesses and more. Garcia has been with the Job Center for 12 years and says on the Kenai Peninsula, there’s a lack of qualified workers for the kinds of jobs available.

“There are a lot more opportunities for people, but most of the qualifications are becoming a little more technical. There’s a little bit of a shortage when it comes to things like welders, pipefitters, electricians and plumbers,” Garcia said.

And inside the Job Center office, pretty much every computer they’ve got is being used by someone filling out a resume for the state’s job board, called ALEXsys.

“That’s where we post all of our jobs, so employers can log in, create an account, post jobs and then we go in and look at the jobs. Right now, there are more than 150 jobs available on the Alaska Labor System,” Garcia said.

Back inside the fair, Heather Duffy has finished hearing a pitch from Alaska State Trooper Brian Barlow about a career in law enforcement, but that didn’t exactly hit the spot.

“I just want something that I can move up in that field. (Something) with potential for growth and a higher position, higher play. Plus we’re thinking about moving, so Alaska State Trooper probably wouldn’t work someplace else,” Duffy said.

After visiting all the booths she was interested in, Duffy said she was ready to send out her resume’ to the places that appealed to her.

She was one of more than 250 prospective employees who came out before the day was even half over. Garcia says the variety of employers and positions should give anyone seeking something new a reason to take a look.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


More Calls For Repeal of Fish Habitat Ordinance At Anchor Point Town Hall

Residents from up and down the western Peninsula filled the Anchor Point Senior Center for the second in a series of town hall meetings focused on the Borough’s anadromous fish habitat protection ordinance.

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The message Monday night was clear. Repeal. That’s what people want, or the people who have been coming out for these town hall meetings, anyway.

The message was the same in Anchor Point as it was at the first meeting held in Nikiski on March 4th. Despite creation of a task force to essentially scrap the ordinance as it was passed in 2011 and start over, some people don’t even want these protections on the books. In fact, a number of the 50-plus in attendance
Monday night were from Nikiski.

Those who testified before the Task Force were generally upset with the idea that new rules should have to be put in place to provide a 50 foot buffer next to fish-friendly streams, rivers and lakes.

Some of the opposition to the measure might be explained by some
misconceptions about it, some of which have become rallying cries for its repeal, such as the (false) provision that the ordinance would outlaw lawn mowing, or that permit would be required to do so.

“It concerns me when someone thinks that (lawns) cannot be mowed because it tells me that they have not read this amendment,” said Task Force Facilitator and Borough Mayor Mike Navarre’s Chief of Staff, Paul Ostrander.

Other activities that would be allowed, without a permit, on existing legally established landscaping and landscape features (read: your yard) developed prior to adopting the ordinance:

-Mowing, pruning, weeding, planting annuals, perennials, fruits and vegetables.

-Pruning of trees and woody shrubs (no more than 25% of the living crown of a tree)

-Removal of downed trees

-Planting of native vegetation that doesn’t affect runoff/erosion.

The crowd was clearly against the measure, both in practice and in principle. In trying to explain away misunderstandings about the rules, Ostrander and some on the task force were put on the defensive.

Ostrander addressed the notion that there’s no need for the ordinance because no one would ever want to damage fish habitat.

“Let’s just go there and say that’s the case; no one would ever do anything to damage it. But what about the person that does want to? They want to do something next to me that’s going to damage the creek that I live on. ‘I’m going to make sure that they don’t', someone said. Well, that’s good, but there’s instances there when you probably aren’t going to be able to control what your neighbor is doing. If they want to pave right down to the creek, and it’s going to damage you, personally, this ordinance would tell them ‘you can’t pave right down to there’,” Ostrander said.

Task Force member Ginny Litchfield, who is the area manager for the
Department of Fish and Game’s Habitat Division pointed out that much of the land that would be affected by the 50 foot buffer isn’t private, and that a buffer would be necessary to make sure oil and gas explorers are using their best practices to retain healthy waterways.

The Assembly has yet to vote on this amended habitat protection ordinance. That
probably won’t happen until some time this summer. One more town hall meeting is
scheduled for Moose Pass on April 9th, then the final version the Task Force signs off on will go to the planning commission, and, after public hearings there, the Assembly will finally get a look at it. Ostrander says it’s likely, given the contentious history of the
ordinance, that multiple public hearings will be held before the Assembly votes.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Chenault, Olson Talk Oil Taxes, Education At Town Hall Meeting

The regular session of the state legislature will end in less than three weeks. Oil taxes, gas lines, education and a host of other issues await decisions in Juneau, and many of those same issues were discussed Saturday at a town hall meeting in Soldotna with House Speaker Mike Chenault of Nikiski and fellow House Republican Kurt Olson of Kenai.

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Chenault and Olson took questions for about three hours from a long list of constituents signed up to speak Saturday in the Borough Assembly Chambers in Soldotna. Education and energy issues received the most attention. Chenault and Olson are both sponsors of House Bill Four, which is intended to finally bring North Slope natural gas to market. Chenault said Saturday, as he has in the past, that opponents want of HB 4 want a 48 inch pipeline rather than the 36 inch line called for in the bill.

“Nowhere in the world except Alaska would a 36 inch pipeline, 800 miles long, be considered a small pipeline,” Chenault said.

“Now, if Alaska wants to step up and spend 45-65 million dollars, we can certainly build a 48 inch pipeline anywhere we want to. (That) doesn’t mean we’ll have any gas to put in it, but we can certainly build a 48 inch pipeline anywhere we want.”

He says only a portion of the demand for that gas will come from Alaska, for projects like Donlin Creek, a proposed gold mine 145 miles northeast of Bethel, with a projected lifespan of about 25 years and diesel and wind as the primary energy sources. Chenault says Asia is where the real demand is, and that’s where officials are looking for potential customers.

On the topic of education, Olson shared a dialogue with Kenai Peninsula
Education Association President LaDawn Druce about House Bill 151, or the Parental
Education Information Act. This one would establish a grading system for individual
schools, just like a traditional report card: an A for excellent progress ranging down to F for a failure to make any progress.

“I feel like we’re going to basically have the Scarlet Letter put on our schools, but in Alaska, given the nature of so many of our districts, what would be the point of labeling a school?” Druce asked. “Let’s say it’s even in town here, and Kenai High School is an A school one year and Soldotna High School is a C school. Does that mean the District is responsible for redoing the boundaries for transportation? Is that what that looks like? ‘I’m a parent and I want my kid to go to the A school this year’?”

“I think it’s being done more for the parents, to give them a tool to evaluate and see if there’s a problem. If I still had kids in school, I’d want to figure out how…what we could do to make it better,” Olson said.

Olson is a co-sponsor of that bill which had a hearing before the Education Committee Monday morning. Chenault and Olson also fielded questions about Senate Bill 55, which would allow insurance companies to access personal financial records as a factor in establishing rates for coverage and heard concerns from voters on a number of other issues, including finding more funding to address food security and homelessness.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Maybe Next Year: Board Holds Off On Major Action For Salmon Fisheries

The state Board of Fisheries took up the issue of king salmon management at its meeting this week. The Board was supposed to dive into this topic during the 2014 cycle, but given the 2012 salmon season, they got to it a year early. Despite taking into consideration the proposals generated by a Task Force that met over the winter, the Board decided to do little for 2013. For more insight into the process and about how salmon fishermen feel about the Board’s actions, KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran spoke with Peninsula Clarion reporter Rashah McChesney who was in Anchorage to cover the meeting.

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Shaylon Cochran:  We know there wasn’t much consensus coming out of the Task Force, so what did that leave the Board to consider, since the Task Force simply couldn’t agree to much?

Rashah McChesney:  Well, it was funny…by the end of it, the proposal that came out of the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force definitely didn’t have a consensus, but that was not the same proposal that ended up being taken up by the Board of Fisheries. Several changes were made to it during this Board process.

And so, what you ended up with was really a document that nobody was happy with. You had setnetters telling Board of Fisheries members ‘this is non-tenable for us’ because there was another part of the proposal the Board took up that would have restricted their gear, and that was not something the Task Force had recommended. That part would have given the Department of Fish and Game the ability to reduce the number of nets or the length of nets. So a lot of setnetters came out and said ‘hey, that might work for somebody who fishes ten sites and has multiple nets, but what about people who fish one site, and now they have one net, or a shortened net that they can work with?’, they essentially said that would have become an allocative issue, that you would have been allocating most of the sockeye to people who had more nets.

And then you still had this sort of…well, for instance, Task Force member Kevin Delaney, who is a consultant for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, gave a pretty long presentation on why he was not happy with ADF&G’s new escapement goal because it is significantly lower than its old escapement goal. So you really had this proposal that was being debated that people from two sides of the issue were not happy with.

So the same people who had been hammering it out on the Task Force almost kind of came together to say ‘no, none of these things are tenable to either of these groups’, which I think is ultimately why, or one of the reasons why, the Board decided to reject those proposals, is that they became unpopular to both sides.

The feeling that I get is that the Board didn’t take a whole lot of action this time around, sort of crossing their fingers that 2013 would just naturally be a little better than 2012 and also recognizing that in 2014, the Board is going to take up Cook Inlet issues again as part of their normal process.

Right. So that was something (Board member) Tom Kluberton mentioned in his testimony when he actually withdrew his support for those proposals that he had originally helped to draft (as co-chair of the Task Force), and he also said that there were several pieces of information that came to light that actually would have made those proposals more restrictive. So the idea was to give Fish and Game managers a lot of flexibility, but in reality…it gets a little bit complicated, but in reality they would have actually ended up shutting down most of the fishery in the early part of July because they would not have had the projected escapement numbers they needed.

So, there ended up being kind of a hope that there would be data coming out of this coming season that would help them maybe tweak the management plan during the 2014 cycle, because they don’t have the data they need now to do it and actually give the managers the flexibility that they think they need.

I got a sense for the first time since all of this started that, that they’re starting to understand that the run timing is different, and this idea of splitting the late run into two seasons would give them a tool to manage later in the season than they’re used to.

Right, and that’s where it got kind of interesting. So, what they did was say that if the fisheries are below 15,000, if the projected escapement is below 15,000, everyone is out of the river, you can’t fish for chinook. But, if their expected escapement hits that range between 15,000 and 16,500, which is a very narrow window of fish to manage to, then there would be some fishing opportunity for users, but it would be severely restricted. And that’s where you got into no bait, catch and release, shortening the length of the nets or taking the nets out of the water; all of these sort of handicaps for being able to catch massive amounts of fish because it wasn’t quite low enough to be unsafe, but it wasn’t high enough that the Department was completely comfortable liberalizing the fishery.

And so what you would have was until the 20th of July, if that projected escapement was between 15,000 and 16,500, people could fish and on the 21st, they would do this escapement again and essentially start over with their management.

That’s where the run timing got kind of crucial and what Tom Kluberton was telling me was that a setnetter had given him data that showed that the late run didn’t have an escapement projection above 15,000 until almost the 20th of July. So if they had put that regulation into effect, it would have been, well, as Kluberton said, it would have been a disaster because if you don’t have an escapement that shows you’ll hit 15,000 fish before the 20th of July, that’s the first three weeks of July that all of the fishermen are going to be out of the water which would have been much more restrictive than last season.

I talked to a couple of setnetters afterward, and they told me that they were satisfied with the Board’s decision because gear modifications were untenable to them. But I also talked to a couple people who told me that they didn’t feel like that whole process with the Task Force had been in vain. There was a lot of data generated from that whole process and so now Fish and Game and all of the managers and all of the fishermen have this data base of things that are really important to know about the fishery in one place. And so that’s one of the bright spots in this whole thing, is that even though you met for months, you generated thousands of pages of documents and we had arguments and it was all kind of contentious, what did come out of it was more knowledge about the fishery, which will hopefully be beneficial in the future.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 

 

 

 


Board of Fish Looks At Kenai King Salmon Issues

As a state Board of Game meeting wrapped up in Kenai this week, the Board of Fish got to work at the statewide finfish meeting in Achorage Tuesday.  The Board is addressing king salmon issues affecting fishing industries on the Kenai Peninsula.

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This is it. This is the one salmon fisherman have been waiting for since last August, when a disastrous chinook and sockeye season finally ended, having seen major restrictions and numerous closures in the face of above average returns of red salmon and below average returns of kings.

A Task Force was established to bring together the various user groups affected by last year’s management decisions, to try and find some consensus on the best methods that could be put in place to avoid those same outcomes and keep nets and lines in the water when the fish actually show up. Little consensus was found, but the Board of Fisheries, after hearing public testimony over the course of two days, began deliberating some of the proposals on Thursday.

Proposal 249 directly addresses last year’s issues and calls for the Board to consider regulatory changes to management plans for Kenai River King salmon. Any changes would be based on possible changes to escapement goals. The range discussed by the Task Force for an optimal escapement goal was 13,000-30,000 fish.

The question of if the Department can better manage the fishery within a new escapement goal range was raised by Board member Tom Kluberton, who also co-chaired the Task Force. Fish and Game regional management biologist Tom Vania said new sonar data alone would improve management decisions in 2013.

“Would this be better than nothing or is the SEG (sustainable escapement goal) just enough to fix it?” Kluberton asked.

“Either of those management plans, I believe we can manage for,” Vania said. “We have a DIDSON-based goal with DIDSON equipment so we’re already miles ahead of managing based upon indices of abundance, so that right there sets us on a much  better path, and much better ability to assess run abundance coming into the river,” he said.

There’s been no question that DIDSON sonar counts of king salmon are more accurate than older methods, but how to properly factor in those new numbers with historical data remains a challenge, as Department sportfish biologist Bob Clark explained to the Board. He said even though the new escapement goal is numerically lower than in year’s past, it doesn’t necessarily represent fewer fish.

“If you harken back to my presentation where I  showed the target strength-based data versus the DIDSON data, there’s really…no simple conversion between our old data and our new data. And that translates all the way through to the escapement goal,” Clark said.

There is language in the proposal that addresses last year’s issue of an unusually late return. If the Department concludes that a sustainable escapement goal of 15,000-30,000 fish will be met, the Commissioner can extend the season by emergency order, one week into August, giving the inriver community more opportunities for
harvest.

Strategies to keep setnetters in the water this year are geared mostly toward timing. Instead of a complete closure if the projected escapement dips below a certain level, setnet sites would be limited to 36 hours of operation per week, with one continuous 36 hour closure during the same week. As Board member Vince Webster explains,
the new plan would essentially split the king season in two, one period between July 10th and 21st and a second one for the rest of the king run after the 21st.

“After the 21st, there’s total closure if the forecasted escapement is below 15,000. But it gives them additional tools and rather than have a total closure, the Department has a tool for the setnetters to reduce gear by aggregate length. They could reduce that gear rather than give them a total closure. This is what the user asked us for  last year, this is what the Department asked us for last year, and that’s all this does,” Webster said.

The Board is scheduled to continue hearing statewide proposals through Friday, with deliberations taking place over the weekend.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Board of Game Wraps Up Meeting In Kenai, Votes On Moose and Bear Proposals

The state Board of Game wrapped up its five day meeting in Kenai Tuesday, going through a long list of proposals to change many of the game management rules on the Kenai Peninsula.

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The first four days of the Board’s meeting were dominated by staff reports from managers and biologists from the Department of Fish and Game about the state of brown bear and moose populations on the Kenai and public testimony, mostly about the proposals before the Board. That testimony was mostly unified either in favor of or opposition to those proposals. On Tuesday, the Board voted on those proposals which could represent some significant changes for hunters on the Kenai. In general, the Board’s strategy is to continue with as many opportunities as possible for moose harvest while at the same time identifying ways to enhance habitat and decrease predation. Department Biologist Jeff Selinger explained the Department’s reasoning for supporting continuing moose hunts on the southern Peninsula.

“There seems to be some late season habitat limitations. (The area in question) has maintained this hunt for a number of years, but we still see impacts due to moose browse, so we don’t know that we want to carry a whole lot more moose down there at this time,” Selinger said. Though the Department is authorized to issue as many as 100 permits for this hunt, Selinger said they would continue to issue just 50, as in years past.

Prior testimony from biologists and managers pointed to a lack of substantial forest fires in recent decades as one reason for significant declines in moose populations on the central and northern Peninsula. In the absence of those habitat-creating fires, predator species are a target for helping the moose. State Game Division Director Doug Vincent-Lang said that as a part of that effort, aerial wolf hunting could be on the table, after the Board voted to allow it, though he did say there is an increased interest in harvesting more predators, namely wolves, during normal hunting and trapping seasons which needs to be taken into consideration.

“I’m concerned that removing wolves in this unit through aerial control could impact these opportunities, and the long term desire of people to solve the problem of wolf predation through general hunting and trapping regulations,” Vincent-Lang said.

He said it was apparent that there was a split between the public and Advisory Committees on support of the measure, but that he would make a decision on whether or not to start an aerial control program this year.

There wasn’t a lot of opposition to increasing predator control measures, but the Homer Advisory Committee did submit a statement requesting the Board further explore alternatives to these and other intensive management techniques. In general, the Homer AC supported the proposals intended to help maintain healthy moose populations, but was concerned that success in increasing the number of moose in 15A, the northern Peninsula, would actually be detrimental, as the existing population is already struggling to stay healthy with enough food and good habitat.

The other predator issue is an increasing population of brown bears. The Board heard many calls for increasing harvest opportunity for brown bears and did vote in favor of establishing a fall and spring bear hunt, open for drawing permits with a bag limit of one bear every four regulatory years. That was a proposal supported by the Homer AC, but how effective that strategy will be remains a question, as lands on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge are not subject to state guidelines and the Refuge sits on parts of all three Peninsula management zones. One of the methods the Board adopted as a way to curb the brown bear population is allowing the incidental take of brown bears over black bear bait sites. Refuge Manager Andy Loranger said in earlier testimony before the Board that the refuge would not adopt that policy.

The Board did turn down a proposal to allow the use of motorized land vehicles, 4-wheelers and snow machines, during certain hours in the Lower Kenai Controlled Use Area and another that would have extended the spring season for ptarmigan on the Peninsula.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Kenai Brown Bear Issues Addressed At Board of Game Meeting

The state Board of Game met Tuesday in Kenai for the fifth and final day, with votes taking place on a variety of proposals affecting game issues on the Kenai Peninsula and throughout South Central Alaska, including what to do with a rising brown bear population.

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The brown bear population on the Kenai Peninsula is on the rise. Recent reports from the Department of Fish and Game showed the number to be in excess of 600 animals. Sean Farley is a research biologist for the Department and told the Board of Game during his research presentation that as technology and technique have improved in studying brown bears, so have the population numbers on the Kenai, from initial estimates of around 150 in the 80’s to around 300 in the 90’s. During that time, more has also been learned about the genetics of the Kenai population, once thought to be an isolated one. Farley said that’s not the case.

“Kodiak bears are…no longer distinct and the subspecies classification is incorrect. The Kodiak bear is the same as the Kenai bear,” Farley said.

The latest numbers point to a specific number of bears available for potential harvest and the bear population on the Kenai is no longer classified as one of concern.

“By one interpretation, and believe me, there are many interpretations, there would actually only be 300 bears available for harvest on the Kenai,” he said.

Using statistical models to get a better sense of the total population, Farley said they’ve been able to show, mathematically, that the number of brown bears is getting bigger.

“The take home message here is that we pretty much consistently always have a (statistical measure) indicating that…I think the mantra has always been ‘a stable but slight increasing population’ is probably a good reflection of what the bears on the Kenai have been doing,” Farley said.

That empirical evidence was backed up by the anecdotal evidence of many in the public who testified about seeing more bears over the years, including residential areas.

The discussion about expanding opportunities to hunt brown bears went beyond the scope of public safety and bear-human interaction. One proposal before the Board would allow the incidental taking of brown bears on a black bear baiting site. That proposal ties into several other predator control measures the Board deliberated in its meeting. In our next story, we’ll find out how the Board decided on these and other matters and also hear calls for more conservation of predator species.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Board of Game Takes On Moose Declines

Biologist Thomas McDonough presents a report to the Board of Game Friday in Kenai.

The state Board of Game continues its meeting in Kenai this week. Beginning last Friday, the Board heard research updates from area biologists and two days of public testimony. Dwindling moose numbers on the Central Peninsula and what to do about it was a central topic as the meeting got underway.

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The latest population estimate for moose on the Central Peninsula showed about 1,600 animals. That’s in management unit 15-A, which covers the area between Cooper Landing and Kenai and everything north of the Kenai River. Thomas McDonough is the Assistant Area Biologist for the Division of Wildlife Conservation on the Peninsula. He reported to the Board about ongoing studies which point to a widely accepted reason for why moose numbers in the area have been steadily declining over the past several years.

“We typically see a peak in response of moose densities after a fire, typically 15-20 years post-fire. The population tends to return down to pre-fire densities about 40 years post-fire and it’s been more than 40 years since we’ve had a significant fire in 15A,” McDonough said.

Providing moose suitable habitat becomes more of a challenge as the scale of wild fires diminishes. In the past, mechanical manipulation of the habitat, cutting down trees, has been used, but as Kenai Wildlife Refuge Manager Andy Loranger explained, the problem again is scale. The Refuge encompasses parts of all three management areas on the western Peninsula and so has a large role in providing good habitat, but Loranger says their options are somewhat limited.

“We’re not going to recreate, mechanically or through prescribed burning, given the limitations that are associated with either of those, anything close to… those large fires. That’s just a reality,” Loranger said.

“The only thing that will create that amount of habitat on the landscape is large fires on the landscape and it’s becoming increasingly challenging to allow that to happen. What we feel is the best opportunity, the best bang for your buck if you want to put it that way, is in safely managing wild land fires where and when we can do so,” he said.

The research McDonough presented was based on a study that began in March of 2012, when 50 moose were collared and tracked in unit 15-A and showed a 92% survival rate over the course of the year. While determining the ultimate or final cause of mortality is difficult, in several instances a predator, typically a brown bear, was a likely cause of death. In some areas, the mortality rate for moose cows is as high as 16%. One avenue to curb the decline that had support of many who offered public testimony and Board Chair Ted Spraker, is to widen the scope of predator control; that is, taking more wolves and brown bears before they can get to the remaining moose population, especially on the Refuge, which led to an exchange between Spraker and Refuge Manager Loranger.

Spraker: Will you allow the Department to capture wolves on the Refuge with the clear intent of shooting them once they’re off the Refuge?

Loranger: Mr. Chair, the answer to that question is ‘No’.

Spraker: There’s been three or four proposals submitted to allow permitted hunters who use black bear baiting stations to take a brown bear, incidental. There’s also a comment in the public records that addresses the Refuge has stated they will not allow this, is that yes or no?

Loranger: We have stated that we will not allow brown bear baiting. We oppose that part of that proposal and we will not allow brown bear baiting; taking a brown bear over bait on the Refuge, correct.

Spraker: Those were two things that I hoped the Refuge would cooperate with the State and not over harvest any of the predators, but reduce some of the predator impact on 15A. We want habitat, that’s number one; we really want to see the habitat. But I firmly believe, and I’m speaking for myself, if we don’t arrest this decline, we’re going to be paying dividends in the future.

The Board was set to take up proposals Monday afternoon including one to retain current harvest regulations for moose through 2014 and another that would suspend aerial taking of wolves in 15-A and modify population and harvest objectives for moose.

In our next story, we’ll see how the Board decided on these measures and learn more about an increasing brown bear population on the Kenai Peninsula. The Board of Game is scheduled to adjourn after its meeting Tuesday.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-