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Thread: Wayne Heimer Comments on BOG Meeting, Dall Sheep Management Issues (part 1 of 2)

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default Wayne Heimer Comments on BOG Meeting, Dall Sheep Management Issues (part 1 of 2)

    Hi folks,

    I have been corresponding with Wayne Heimer who has, along with Valerius Geist, written perhaps more about Dall sheep research and management than anyone currently alive. For those who know him, he needs no introduction. Those who do not, and who are also interested in Dall sheep would do well to search him out online. His many research papers, together with his involvement in Dall sheep management issues both as a sheep biologist with ADFG and as a retired private citizen, do give him an authoritative voice in this area. At any rate, he wrote a paper which I asked him to simplify for weaker minds like mine, and I just received the rewrite. You might find it of interest. Feel free to comment on it (without making it personal), and ask questions. Wayne has commented here in the past, and though I know he's a pretty busy guy, he might be able to respond here in the forums. If not, you can reach him in Fairbanks.

    Owing to the length of his letter, I am breaking it into two sections (the forum software doesn't allow posts over a certain length).

    Here's Wayne's letter to the forum community here:

    =========================


    Forum readers: Wayne Heimer here. I recently received a couple of “forum related” questions about the Board of Game and the Department. Here are my answers:

    Question #1: It seems apparent that the Board is not recognizing a biological reason for reducing Dall sheep hunting opportunity. What do you think about this?

    I think this was/is an appropriate response by the Board. There are no data suggesting a legal ram shortage requiring reallocation of opportunity. There’s a lot of populist public pressure to shut down nonresidents alleging a shortage, but no data-driven harvest evidence of an actual biological (or hunter-success-altering) shortage of harvestable rams.

    There are fewer sheep than at some times in the past. It’s also true that there are probably more sheep than at some times in the past. The late 1930s and early ‘40s were a period of notable Dall sheep decline and scarcity. The most likely cause of the decline we saw this time was weather. Our harvests of full curl rams are not linked to population declines.

    The most current guesses (from ADF&G) seem to indicate that the overall decline has slowed or stopped. From estimates given to the Board of Game’s Dall Sheep Working Group, of the 14 sheep populations rated with respect to present trend, only the Kenai and Western Brooks Range are rated as “decreasing” at present. The Talkeetnas and Chugach are rated as “stable at low levels.” The Mentastas, TMA, and Central and Eastern Brooks Range are rated as “stable or decreasing.” The rest are rated as either “stable” or “stable or increasing.” Given that 12 of the 14 populations are rated as at some form of stability, that harvest success remains stable, and the harvest rate of legal rams is low with respect to recruitment, there is no currently demonstrable biological or “hunter-available-ram" problem.

    All the hard data we have indicate that even though sheep populations are not what they once were, we still produce about twice as many harvestable rams as we take each year. Hence, there is no demonstrable statewide shortage or “need to make more” for human use at this time. If we foresee significantly compromised subsistence opportunity or increased full curl ram hunting demand within the next decade, we should start predator control now because Dall sheep population recovery takes time, and growing a legal ram takes eight years. There’s nothing we can do about the weather.

    So, I figure, in this case, the Department SHOULD have advised the Board to reject any proposal to limit anybody’s Dall ram hunting opportunity. I don’t know what the Department did during deliberations. To date, the Department has tried to “stay out” of allocation disputes between users.

    Whatever the Department did or didn’t do, the Board apparently rejected all the requests to make draconian reallocations. I understand they threw the Alaska Professional Hunters “a bone” by defining harvest of “2nd degree kindred” as bag limit for the “guiding resident relative” (Proposal #51). They gave “residents” something by putting nonresidents on a “one every four years” schedule. Also, they kept the prohibition on looking for harvestable rams from aircraft (which should keep the Resident Hunters of Alaska (a new NGO) going strong. The Board also established a youth hunt (which may be outside the “window” when one can’t “spot” for harvestable rams from aircraft). Also, the Board deliberated other “housekeeping” type stuff regarding subsistence Dall sheep hunting, but took no action. The overall situation remains pretty much “status quo” as far as most Dall sheep hunting goes.

    MORE DETAILS AND OPINION

    Whether it made any difference or not, Joe Want and I have been trying to bring accurate data to bear on this issue for about six years. Perhaps the Department and Board are beginning to realize the claims of calamity are more populist passion than objective reality. Still, the Department remained “squishy” about taking a firm stand against the populist pressure from residents.

    Instead of relying on the strength of the data, the Department gently used the term, “no conservation concern” to allow the Board and public to “figure out” no drastic allocation was warranted. This “softness” stems from a 25-year old Division of Wildlife tradition of non-intervention in allocation. This tradition is not the fault of the present Division. It has existed longer than any present Department employees have been working. Still, I’d prefer the Department were more forthcoming, and dump its internal tradition in favor of representing the public interest. I think it could do this by basing it’s positions unambiguously on the best science we have at present, and making firm recommendations to the Board. The Department’s using the term, “no conservation concerns,” has neither pleased nor pacified the passionately pissed populists.

    Similarly, the Board has a hard time telling the public, “No.” Again, it’s an extra-legal tradition. Our laws say the public is to advise the Board (and the Board must respond to bad advice by explaining why it is bad), but the public is not to direct the Board.

    A BOARD MEETING HIGHLIGHT FOR ME

    The newly-formed NGO, Resident Hunters of Alaska (RHAK) Executive Director tactically exploited the Board’s reluctance to refuse the public when he testified compellingly at the Board of Game in Fairbanks. His testimony centered on allegations that ADF&G has neglected “conservation concerns.” The testimony reminded me of a “Hell Fire and Brimstone” sermon condemning the Department (and Board?) as sinners.

    The condemnation of the Department for ‘Having no conservation concerns’ when the Western Brooks Range went down! followed, in perfect preaching cadence, by, They had no ‘conservation concerns’ when the Chugach failed! and then, They had no ‘conservation concerns’ when GMU 20 got out of hand! were stridently presented. Neither Jesse Jackson nor Al Gore could have done better.

    This testimony was so convincing that I, myself, wondered, “Could/should I have done more? Where did I fail?” I may not have been the only one affected. It was a great sermon. Now, I’ve listened to a great many strident sermons in my life, and they always get me thinking (usually after I recover from guilt in the Church parking lot). In this instance, at least two questions came to mind.

    Brace yourself, or skip to “SO WHAT” at the end. I’m going “personally philosophical” here.

    First: “What are legitimate “conservation concerns?”

    As a “producer” of sustainable harvests, I reason a “conservation concern” must, first of all, be a factor that affects harvest opportunity. That begins with production of healthy lambs. Of course, producing healthy lambs (in sufficient quantity to sustain human uses) requires enough healthy ewes on the mountain. Keeping enough ewes on the mountain to produce the Dall sheep we need to sustain human harvests can only be done one way, protecting ewes from untimely deaths. This means keeping the maximum sustainable number of ewes alive throughout their potentially viable reproductive lives. Ewes can produce lambs as long as they can breathe effectively, so that means limiting ewe mortality.

    The only way to extend ewe lives is to limit predation by both humans (primarily subsistence hunters in Alaska) and other predators (wolves, eagles, coyotes, bears, etc.).

    In the larger picture, the Department and Board have done a good job of protecting ewes from human predators where the subsistence history has been manageable. This has been achieved via “ram only” hunting restrictions in most cases, and reflects a “conservation concern/action” by the Department and Board. This actual conservation and management concern has been “managed” for so long that the RHAK Executive Director overlooked it.

    In areas where political realities/correctness have overridden this protection for ewes, the Department (and more extremely the feds) have not afforded ewes protection from harvests. I have argued “forever,” that this reality is more important than most managers appreciate, but I have not been under the political pressure to accommodate risky subsistence management practices like those who make those local decisions. What has happened in subsistence provision has been that a “management concern” (liberal provision for traditional subsistence uses) has overridden my “biological concern.” Ewe harvests in intact arctic ecosystems should always have been recognized as risky business. However, pragmatic or deer-trained managers have traditionally assumed ewe harvests would be either insignificant or sustainable as compensatory mortality. These assumptions have never been validated in an Alaskan situation. They are highly questionable in light of Dall sheep life strategies.

    This takes me to the RHAK testimony’s condemnation of the Department in the Western Brooks Range. It is fine to invite, after-the-fact inference, that the biological and political realities extant there should have been dealt with more biologically than in terms of human sociology. While I agree, that’s not a criticism I’m willing to level at the Department/Board. It just means that other compelling issues transcended the simple biology of Dall sheep in the Western Brooks Range.

    Managers in the Western Brooks Range could just as well have protected Dall ewes from other predators as from humans, but in the case of the Western Brooks Range, I doubt either would have made much difference to overall sheep survival there. When there’s an unusual event like the icing in the maritime-influenced Western Brooks Range (on habitats recognized to be marginal for Dall sheep for at least 40 years), what’s a manager to do? The Department could have worried more about these Dall sheep crashing, but I don’t think it would have made any difference in today’s overall Dall sheep abundance there. The Western Brooks Range sheep decline was unmanageable and "totally natural.” In nature, that happens sometimes.

    (continued on next post)
    =======================
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    Default Wayne Heimer Comments on BOG Meeting, Dall Sheep Management Issues (part 2 of 2)

    (Wayne Heimer, continued from previous post)

    =================================
    Question #2: The claim has been made on the FORUMS that the Department will never recommend a reduction in any scenario, because “We are only harvesting old rams that are inconsequential in terms of maintaining population health.” Are you aware if whether or not this is actually true? What are your thoughts about this question?

    That position “We are only harvesting a few old rams that are inconsequential . . .,” has been floating around the Department since the mid-1970s. On it’s face, it seems pragmatic. However, mature rams ARE CONSEQUENTIAL. Thirty years ago, we demonstrated that ram abundance and/or ram age structure are important in production of lambs, their survival, and the survival of young rams. That’s why we have the full curl regulation.

    The fact that some Department biologists and Board members have refused to recognize this aspect of the production equation makes it look like the Department and Board should have been more obviously concerned about “conservation of productivity" than what we’ve seen in the last 30 years. In my view, this means the Department should have endorsed the full curl ram harvest limit as the conservation measure it was always intended to be (as reflected in the Board’s FINDINGS when the full curl regulation was passed about 20 years ago). That would have saved us a lot of trouble. Sadly, it didn’t happen.

    As a matter of practicality, in Alaska's Dall sheep populations, the only clearly sustainable “harvestable surplus” consists of mature (i.e. full-curl—again a practical designation) rams. The full curl regulation was originally designed to maximize lamb production, survival, and sustainable ram harvests. So, while I think the Department could have been a whole lot more “management-practical” in embracing the biological rationale’ for the full curl regulation, the stated position that “We’re only harvesting a few old rams” (although they are consequential to production) is pragmatically sound. It is just inaccurate because mature rams are consequential.

    RHAK testimony before the Board did not give the Department and Board of 20 years ago credit for dealing with this conservation concern. It would have been easier for all of us if the Department had not gone out of its way to avoid accepting the Board FINDINGS of years ago, but that’s what happened. It reflects little credit on the Department that it has husbanded skepticism about the rationale’ for the full curl regulation and it’s long-term effectiveness for decades. Similarly, it reflects little credit on RHAK’s scholarship or appreciation of history that it didn’t recognize this either. The result is that it looks like RHAK might have been “cherry picking” a little to make it’s point. It’s an old “preacher’s trick." I’ve used it myself when not careful.

    When the RHAK testimony condemned the Department for not having “conservation concerns” in the Chugach, it put the organization in a difficult logical position. The justifications for the Chugach Permit system were directly the result of “conservation concerns.” However, I think those “conservation concerns” were misguided. Rather than noting that weather, about which managers can do nothing, or possibly non-human predation (some of which has been shown to be more important than anticipated in the Chugach) were likely factors, the involved managers assigned human harvesting a greater role (including unjustifiable “genetic conservation concerns”) than I think was warranted. My casual investigation into the weather eight to ten years prior to the “great legal ram dearth” (used to justify restrictive Chugach permits) suggested to me that weather, not human harvests of mature rams, was the more likely cause.

    Nevertheless, in that case, “Departmental concerns” lead (presumably) to conservation actions that limited hunting opportunity, destabilized established local hunting patterns, and perhaps destabilized hunter distribution throughout the state. A lot resulted from acting on those fabricated “conservation concerns.” Much of the fallout has done little for sheep, but grandly complicated Dall sheep management. So, while RHAK testimony condemned the Department for lack of “conservation concerns” in the Chugach, it could have made and equally or more compelling inverse condemnation of the Department for over-responding to unjustifiable “conservation concerns.” The latter argument seems the stronger to me. Others may disagree.

    Second: When does a ‘conservation concern’ become a ‘management concern?”

    That depends on what you think management is. I think that “management” means intervening in any established system to produce, maintain, or enhance a predefined benefit. For Alaska’s wildlife, the predefined benefit is in Article VIII of our constitution. We can be “concerned” but if our “concern” is not for a component of Dall sheep productivity that is management-alterable, it really doesn’t matter how “concerned” we are.

    On the broader scale, our pre-defined benefit is the constitutional basis for our accountability to the now-oft-mentioned North American Model. I suggest the “North American Model” based on the Roosevelt Doctrine goes beyond Pittman-Robertson funding, and is the basis of the “sustained yield principle” in Alaska’s Constitution.

    Folks arguing for restrictions (for others—particularly those who pay the bills) in the face of relative ram abundance simply don’t seem to be “getting” what management in Alaska is supposed to be. Similarly, they don’t seem to recognize how it gets funded. This is particularly relevant when the resident populists allege their "social concerns” (too few sheep or too many nonresidents or too many airplanes) are actually "conservation concerns” which cannot be supported by objective, quantifiable data. Having articulated their “conservation concerns,” populists assume the Department should promote these “conservation concerns” to the “management concern/action” level. This will be difficult for the Department when the “conservation concerns” are not clearly data-supportable.

    With respect to the RHAK testimony condemning Division inaction in GMU 20A, the question, “Is this a management concern?" may also be relevant. GMU 20A seems to be one of the places where Dall sheep populations declined, but were thought to be slowly rebuilding for a while and are now stable. This fact should mean GMU 20A is a poor example of allegedly ignoring “conservation concerns.”

    Of course, the intermittent setbacks to non-human predator populations in GMU 20A probably aided sheep population recovery, but the alleged “conservation concern” that the Department lacks in GMU 20A does not rise to the “productivity” or “harvest sustainability” level. The concerns voiced for GMU 20A have to do with the perceptions of under-informed sheep hunters who are looking for something beyond a “maximum opportunity” experience in a “maximum hunting opportunity” area. The Department may be faulted for not being sufficiently “concerned” about the public knowing what the management plans prescribed for GMU 20A (or what to expect there during opening week), but it is not reasonable to fold this “failure” in with an accusation of lacking concern for conservation.

    Finally: "What is the value of an undefined or mistakenly assigned “conservation concern?

    That seems to depend on one’s understanding of, not only to what management is; but perhaps more importantly, “What does one hope to accomplish?" I infer RHAK hopes to implement a nonresident and guide-limiting agenda. That isn’t “rocket science.”

    I agree with RHAK that we’d all be better off if the Department and Board showed more rational conservation concern reflected in action--or inaction when the public is more passionate than rational--than it has evidenced in the Dall sheep realm of late. I would like to think the imputed guilt from the RHAK testimony will be rationalized and turned to reasoned action (or “inaction”) by the Board/Department in the future. I think it was in the bulk of recent Board decisions on allocation.

    SO WHAT?

    In the broadest sense, we’re in this volatile political environment because wild sheep were not present when wildlife management was invented. Wild sheep were almost extinct at that time in the earlier 20th century. The focus on wildlife management’s development was on deer. Sheep are not deer, and respecting their specific adaptations to a climax environment has been slow and difficult for managers throughout mountain sheep ranges.

    The Department (like most Departments) has been conflicted about what to do with sheep for decades, and this has resulted in an absence of authoritative information. The grand complicating factor in Dall sheep management has been the lack of a common intellectual currency relating to Dall sheep management.

    Like nature, “Management abhors a vacuum.” This vacuum has been happily filled by a whole lot of perspective-driven folks who either don’t know or don’t respect the data (which results in inappropriate handling of it) that should bear on the solutions. This vacuum could have been filled by the Department, but it wasn’t. We’re where we are at present (with "amateur experts” having more input than ADF&G’s professionals in the Dall Sheep Working Group) because of Departmental priorities over the years. I’d like to see the Department fix this.

    To the questioner: I imagine this is much, much more than you wanted. However, you should know that with me, it’s hard to pull the “flush handle” without getting a whole tankful of help to wash away what has become useless.

    Regards as ever,

    Wayne

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    What if Wayne is wrong?

    Maybe Wayne should try to explain why TMA has gone from 120 permits to 60 in recent years if the department concludes; like Wayne and Joe, that hunter harvest of full curl rams does not create a biologic concern?

    And, regardless of which side of the conservation argument any one is on at the end of the day the sheep belong to Alaskans. If some residents are unashamed of claiming the maximum benefit comes to Alaskan's by limiting non residents then so be it.

    Lastly, if not a single non resident came to hunt sheep next year (600 people?) there are still going to be 15,000 non residents coming to hunt Alaska...so sorry Wayne but the Department won't miss the sale and matching PR funds from 600 non resident sheep hunters.

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    Nevermind, I too should not comment on sheep threads

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tsunami View Post
    What if Wayne is wrong?

    Maybe Wayne should try to explain why TMA has gone from 120 permits to 60 in recent years if the department concludes; like Wayne and Joe, that hunter harvest of full curl rams does not create a biologic concern?

    And, regardless of which side of the conservation argument any one is on at the end of the day the sheep belong to Alaskans. If some residents are unashamed of claiming the maximum benefit comes to Alaskan's by limiting non residents then so be it.

    Lastly, if not a single non resident came to hunt sheep next year (600 people?) there are still going to be 15,000 non residents coming to hunt Alaska...so sorry Wayne but the Department won't miss the sale and matching PR funds from 600 non resident sheep hunters.
    I think this is a duplicate post. I just answered a nearly identical one in another thread. Did you have a question for Wayne?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Strahan View Post
    I think this is a duplicate post. I just answered a nearly identical one in another thread. Did you have a question for Wayne?

    -Mike
    If it was a duplicate post wouldn't it be identical?
    The post in this thread is a response to Wayne's treatise that you posted for him. There is a question. It's the part with the question mark. Question marks look like this-->?

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    Quote Originally Posted by tsunami View Post
    What if Wayne is wrong?

    I've decided to not post too much on these issues but this here quote sums it up for me. Throughout the message from Mr Heimer the common word is "opinion ". Sure would be nice to see things base off of "facts"

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    I agree Dave. I think as delayed as our sheep surveys are that facts from one survey five years ago are no longer facts. Hard to keep up on statewide sheep issues when no one can keep up with the sheep themselves!! We are in a quandary.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BRWNBR View Post
    I agree Dave. I think as delayed as our sheep surveys are that facts from one survey five years ago are no longer facts. Hard to keep up on statewide sheep issues when no one can keep up with the sheep themselves!! We are in a quandary.
    Jake, the lag on our report interval is about to get worse, apparently. Looks like the Department is looking at releasing reports every five years now. In between those (if I understood the biologist I was speaking with correctly), we will see smaller reports on specific areas, as they are produced. I think the result of that, for those of us who contact the biologists fairly often, will be more frequent calls for updates from them. It was nice getting those reports every couple of years or so...
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    Ya the last bio I talked with kinda told me the same thing. Makes it hard to get a handle or real trend data on an area that we know so little about.
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    Quote Originally Posted by tsunami View Post
    What if Wayne is wrong?

    Maybe Wayne should try to explain why TMA has gone from 120 permits to 60 in recent years if the department concludes; like Wayne and Joe, that hunter harvest of full curl rams does not create a biologic concern?

    And, regardless of which side of the conservation argument any one is on at the end of the day the sheep belong to Alaskans. If some residents are unashamed of claiming the maximum benefit comes to Alaskan's by limiting non residents then so be it.

    Lastly, if not a single non resident came to hunt sheep next year (600 people?) there are still going to be 15,000 non residents coming to hunt Alaska...so sorry Wayne but the Department won't miss the sale and matching PR funds from 600 non resident sheep hunters.
    (note from Mike: I'm posting this answer on Wayne's behalf, as he didn't have his login info. Apologize for the delay, but I've been busy at the outdoor show since Thursday and I just found this in my inbox, I'll get Wayne's login figured out and perhaps he will post if there's a reason to.)

    =============================
    (from Wayne Heimer)


    Michael,


    I thought I had my FORUM username and password written down, but it won’t work for me. So, I’ll respond to Tsunami via you in an effort to be current.
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Tsunami, You asked three questions I’ll try to address:


    "What if Wayne is wrong?" It wouldn’t be the first time, but Wayne is in agreement with ADF&G that there is no statewide biological or management concern at this point. Hunter success is “as always” plus indications are that harvest rate is light with respect to recruitment to legal age. Wayne can certainly make mistakes, but generally it is safe to risk taking a position consistent with objective data. That’s always been where Wayne has “come down” in the past. Generally, when Wayne learns he’s wrong, he changes his position. He’s done it many times. Of course, he likes it best when he’s the one who finds he’s made a mistake, but he’s generally been pretty good about others helping him find his way.


    The notion of who owns Alaska’s sheep gets pretty big. Clearly, the “State" owns the sheep. The individual landowners don’t, the Department doesn’t, the Board of Game doesn’t, and the federal landowners don’t. As I understand (or misunderstand) it, things get complicated pretty quickly beyond that. Governor Hickle’s book, “Who Owns Alaska” where he spoke of the “owner state” is said (by people who should know—I’m not necessarily one of them—to oversimplify. If you haven’t read it, it might help or confuse you. Even more confusing is that Alaska’s “common use” resources are “public trust property.” As I understand it (or not) that’s a whole lot more complex than “fee simple” ownership. It turns out that regulations say you don’t really “own” your ram after you’ve killed it. The state can still tell you which parts to salvage and in what order to salvage them. I think public trust property involves stewardship sorts of responsibilities. About all I can say for certain is, “it’s pretty complex.” The definitive work on the subject is a large green-jacketed book, “Putting the Public Trust Doctrine to Work.” It gets pretty deep into the legal weeds pretty quickly. Good luck with that.


    Now, about reductions in TMA permits (mentioned several times at BOG meeting): The “management by objective” recipe calls for strategic objectives which are measurable. When we invented the TMA in 1974 and wrote the management plan for it (published in 1976), Tony Smith and I realized the recipe called for having as many strategic objectives as necessary to meet the overall management goal. The overall goal was “trophy management.” That meant several things. The first objective was trophy size. Tony and I figured that an unusually large trophy ram (as generally recognized in the “WOW!” category) would be anything 39 inches or above. So, we set that as the “trophy size” we hoped to achieve. However, we knew that sheep of this size are unusual. They’re not as rare as 40-inchers, but they are unusual. So, we ARBITRARILY set the trophy management objective as maintaining 7-10% of the harvest from TMA at 39 inches or above. We met this goal for many years running, beginning after 1974. I think that was because it was a practically achievable objective. It wasn’t 40 inches, but it was practically achievable, and a 39 inch ram is an outstanding specimen. It looks like many years later, the strategic size objective was, again ARBITRARILY changed to define management “success” as having 7-10% of the harvest be 40 inches or greater. That’s a considerably higher standard, and my information is that the “size objective” began to not be met regularly. Hence, there was a “management failure” by definition. In an effort to reach a goal like this one (which Tony and I thought unreasonably high based on our experience), it would be reasonable for a manager to reduce harvest in the hope that more rams would become 40-inchers (if not shot at shorter horn lengths) AND be harvested by highly discerning hunters. Whether this was part of the rationale for reducing permits, I can’t say. I can only say what a reasonable manager with a very lofty goal would have to do if he tried to reach 7-10% 40-inchers. You could probably get a more satisfactory answer (or at least one that isn’t speculation) if you asked the Area Biologist in Tok. I presume he (or maybe the local AC) made the change. Somebody did. They didn’t ask me or Tony.


    Additionally, there was a secondary objective in 1974. It was to provide an aesthetically pleasing hunt. My information was that complaints of hunter crowding began to surface years ago. That would mean that if a manager took his secondary objective, “aesthetic hunting” seriously, he would have to do something to reduce crowding. One way to do that would be to reduce participation via reducing permits. I heard “opening day syndrome” was seen as a problem so eventually the season was split (making two opening days, not one). Whether that reduced complaints that the secondary objective was not being met, I can’t tell you. However, reducing permits to eliminate crowding seems a reasonable thing for a manager to do if his recipe calls for aesthetic hunting.


    When we started in the TMA, there were thought to be about 1,200 sheep there, with a population of 550 ewes or so. During my time there, the population took a big hit with a big winter. It had been “skating” on easy winters, and when the big one hit, we thought the population had “crashed.” In those days we had a large percentage of the ewes marked. That meant we knew the ages of the marked animals. Those ewes which did not show up at the lick were presumed dead. What we found was that the bulk of the mortality was in ewes that had “slipped through” the preceding mild winters to reach ages above 10 years. Virtually all of these disappeared (were never seen again, presumed dead). Meanwhile, the mortality in the prime age classes of ewes simply increased from around 3-5% up toward 6 or maybe 10 percent. In other words, the population had not taken a catastrophic hit, weather had just “caught up with” older ewes who normally would have perished a year or two earlier. Of course, when we had more ewes, we had more lambs, and years later that meant more rams. So, there was no immediate need to cut back on permits because only the very old rams had died. Of course, some of these might have been harvested above 40 inches in length, and that could have compromised apparent management success if we’d had a 40-inch or above size objective (we didn’t). If weather (or predation) drives your population down, and you have management objectives that call for more sheep, a manager can either go kill predators (a BIG job in today’s environment) or cut the number of permits. I don’t know what the Area Biologist in Tok figured into all of this.


    I guess the point of all this history is to emphasize that as simple as sheep management might seem, when you get into the deeper nuts and bolts of it, there’s more than might meet the eye. The “internal dynamics” of the population are at least as important as how many you can count. I wrote a paper about all this stuff once. If you want to give it a try, I’ll help you find it.


    If you want specific answers to the TMA questions, the Tok Area Biologist will be your best source.


    Hope this helps you a bit!


    Wayne
    ==============================



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