Board of Game approves wildlife overpass hunting and trapping restrictions
This week, the Alaska Board of Game deliberated dozens of proposals that would restrict trapping on the Kenai Peninsula — part of its week-long meeting in Soldotna on regulations for Southcentral Alaska. One proposal the board approved Tuesday will limit trapping and hunting on and near wildlife crossings along the Cooper Landing bypass project.
The bypass will divert traffic from part of the Sterling Highway around the community of Cooper Landing, through the wildlife-heavy Juneau Creek area north of the community. Construction on the bypass is in progress, and current plans for the project include several wildlife underpasses, and the first-ever Alaska highway wildlife overpass — a bridge over the road that would allow wildlife like moose and bears to safely cross.
The proposal, submitted by the Anchorage-based Alaska Wildlife Alliance, asked that hunting and trapping would be prohibited on and within a quarter mile of the over and underpasses. In the proposal, the alliance argues that allowing hunting in these areas negates the $10.5 million investment the Department of Transportation is making in the structures, and that “these underpasses and this bypass, meant to benefit wildlife, could turn into a population sink.”
“To me, this is pretty easy. We’re creating a choke point for animals, which can cause a domino effect, if you will,” Stosh Hoffman, a member of the board from Bethel, said at the meeting on Tuesday. “This whole concept makes complete sense to me, that we have to create some kind of buffer zone around these areas we’re causing animals to go through.”
During deliberations, the board acknowledged that wildlife under and overpasses are relatively new to Alaska, and Department of Fish and Game staff explained that there are no precedents for hunting or trapping limits around the structures.
But one board member said there’s precedent in fish weirs — another man-made structure that funnels animals into a choke point. Fishing is not allowed within 300 feet of weirs in Alaska.
The board added language to the proposal that restricts hunters from shooting into the quarter-mile buffer from right outside. Then the board voted on the amended proposal, which passed unanimously.
Nicole Schmitt is the director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. She was excited about the board’s decision, and the precedent it sets.
“Wildlife migration is really important to the health of the wildlife, and so creating this setback for hunting and trapping protects those corridors that we’ve spent millions of dollars to establish,” she said. “So we were just really excited to see this codified.”
The proposal was the first in a long list of submissions related to hunting and trapping on the Kenai Peninsula, including a slew of proposals that would add trapping setbacks along trails and campgrounds in Homer and Cooper Landing. The board shot down most of those proposals.