Kenai hunters required to complete moose orientation

Hunters aiming to take home some moose meat this year on the Kenai Peninsula will have to take an additional step before heading out — an online hunting orientation.

The 19-question quiz asks hunters to identify a legal moose by features of its antlers, testing them on their knowledge of the types of formations on a moose’s rack and whether they can identify a legal moose in the wild with several videos. Available on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website, the orientation is free and is intended to make sure hunters know how to tell the difference between legal and sublegal moose.

Effective July 1, hunters in Game Management Units 7 and 15 — which together cover the majority of the Kenai Peninsula — have to finish the orientation and obtain a card certifying that they did so before they can legally harvest a moose. Once they do so, they can print it out and have it laminated at a Fish and Game office if they choose. It has to be on the hunter at all times while hunting, said Jeff Selinger, the area management biologist for the Division of Wildlife Conservation in Soldotna.

There’s another resource video on Fish and Game’s website, entitled “Is this moose legal?” that hunters can watch, which is being updated this year, he said. But it’s better to be overly cautious and lose an animal than risk the consequences of shooting a sublegal moose, which can include having to surrender equipment and the animal anyway, he said.

“The biggest thing is if you’re out in the field, and if you’re not sure … my suggestion is just don’t pull the trigger in that case,” he said. “People need to know what constitutes a legal animal in the area they’re hunting.”

The Board of Game put the requirement in place during its February 2017 meeting in Fairbanks by approving an Agenda Change Request submitted by the Central Peninsula Fish and Game Advisory Committee, a citizen group that meets to discuss issues before the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game. The group was concerned that too many sublegal moose are being killed, particularly in the previous season.

“Hunters that take illegal moose deprive other hunters that are careful in determining whether a bull is legal from that animal in future years,” the proposal states. “When a subpopulation of moose is managed under a selective harvest program, success of the program depends on a low percentage of illegal bulls harvested.”

Last year, 57 sublegal moose were taken by hunters, or about 20 percent of the total harvest, Selinger said. In 2015, the sublegal take was about 42 animals, or 16 percent of the total harvest, according to a presentation submitted by Fish and Game staff to the Board of Game for the meeting in February. That only includes the animals surrendered to Fish and Game by hunters, though, and doesn’t take into account moose killed by cars on the roads, which is somewhere around 200 moose each year on the Kenai Peninsula, Selinger said.

Some groups were unhappy that the Kenai is the only place where this particular requirement will apply. The Homer Fish and Game Advisory Committee submitted comments to the Board of Game to that effect, saying it was inappropriate to accept the proposal out of cycle and hear it in Fairbanks, far from the affected area, and unfair to single out the Kenai. For one, all hunters are required to seal moose taken on the Kenai, which could increase the number of sublegal moose reported in this particular area while it is happening elsewhere but not being reported.

“The Kenai Peninsula is the only area of the state under a sealing requirement for moose, and due to this (it) is the only area for which data on the ‘honest accidental’ take of moose is available,” the group wrote in its public comments to the Board of Game. “Before additional onerous requirements for moose hunters are imposed on unit 7 and 15 hunters, we feel that horn sealing requirements should be instituted statewide. This regulation would shed light on whether the inability to judge moose is a local or statewide issue.”

Selinger said hunters should also remember that the moose orientation requirement also applies on Kalgin Island now, since the island was absorbed into Game Management Unit 15.

The orientation is available on Fish and Game’s website.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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