Been wanting to post on the failure of Proposal 16 at last Board of Game meeting that asked for a five-day earlier opening to sheep hunting in Region III for Alaska residents.
I was pretty flabbergasted with the comments made by a number of guides who testified against it, as well as the testimony from the Alaska chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation representative, Pete Buist. In that every other western state that has sheep has a clear resident preference, yet it is implied that Alaska should somehow not do the same.
The Alaska chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation also sent in written comments on Prop 16, which are #79 in the Public Record if anyone wants to review those. In those written comments they acknowledge that the person who wrote prop 16 is a Life Member of WSF. Those comments close with this: "The Foundation also notes that if Proposal #16 eventually restricts nonresident hunters (as we argue it will given there is not a sufficient surplus of mature rams for harvest throughout Region III to absorb the increased hunter pressure we project) the Board will have enforced a de facto "Tier I" approach to the allocation of Dall sheep harvest opportunities in Region III for a species purposefully excluded from Alaska's subsistence law when it was passed. We don't even want to think about the problems associated with such an action.
The Alaska Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation recommends against passage of Proposal #16 and for a more coordinated statewide approach to Dall sheep management than presently exists." [their emphasis]
Here is Pete Buist's testimony at the BOG meeting, any bolded portions are my emphasis:
"Good morning Mr Chairman, Board members, my name is Pete Buist, I’m testifying for the Alaska chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation. We’re a statewide conservation group with an intense interest in dall sheep conservation and hunting.
Proposal number 16 would add five days to the sheep hunting season across Region III by allowing resident hunters to begin hunting on Aug 5th and non-resident hunters to begin hunting on Aug 12th. We would recommend you do not pass this change.
Proposal 16 would open the season for Alaska residents only in Region III five days earlier than for nonresidents. This early opening can reasonably be expected to focus increased resident hunting pressure on Region III. As a matter of principle we can’t agree that increasing harvest opportunity is a good idea when Dall sheep populations are already depressed and legal rams are correspondingly scarce. Simply put, we do not support a lengthened season on a struggling resource.
Compared to recorded history, dall sheep populations are thought to be down by as much as 40 to 50% across Region III. Inviting more resident hunting pressure in to this already heavily harvested area does not seem to be in the better interest of sheep populations. Season length issue is particularly important in the Brooks Range where the five day increase in open season actually amounts to a very significant 20% increase in functional season length. Historically weather closes the sheep season in the Brooks Range early, often prior to Sept 5th. This means the present season length in the Brooks Range is really only from Aug 10 to Sept 5. This change would be an increase from 25 days to 30 days, or an increase of 20% in season length for residents, along with a loss of two days or almost 10% for nonresidents.
If more resident hunters are attracted to the Brooks Range, already competitively harvested populations will face more pressure for a longer period of time. Given that there aren’t a lot of full curl rams going to waste in Region III, it’s reasonable to presume that success by early resident hunters will effectively take rams away from those who must hunt later in the season. Nonresident sheep hunters would be disadvantaged by hunting after many rams have been harvested by residents. If the existing equality of opportunity is disturbed to discriminate against nonresidents, it seems likely the revenue generated by nonresident Dall ram hunting in Region III will decline. Because nonresident Dall sheep revenues have always been a major source of dollars for Pittman-Robertson matching funds, action further decreasing nonresident license and tag sales does not seem to be good for Dall sheep conservation or the Department’s budget.
Even though sheep harvests have declined, the percentages harvested by residents and non-residents remain about the same, roughly 60:40 in favor of residents. Although resident hunters traditionally see themselves as disadvantaged compared to nonresidents, residents typically overlook the cost, season length, and proximity advantages they enjoy by living here. Although we do not presently have the resources to accurately predict the revenue losses from nonresident license and tag sales, we suggest the Board not accept this proposal until our differences with the assertions of proposal 16 have been thoroughly investigated. While we are sympathetic to the feelings of our members who are resident sheep hunters, we urge the Board to be cautious in restricting nonresident hunters via this oblique mechanism."
End of Testimony - Questions from the Board
Sager-Albaugh: "Pete did your organization discuss the possibility of a regulation, talking about proposal 16, a proposal similar to that that would apply on a statewide basis, did you discuss that and talk about whether or not that would be something the group would support?"
Buist: "No we looked at the way it was written here and dealt with this rather than statewide, and I probably shouldn’t speculate on what we would think, but if I had to, I’d say that most of the arguments would be the same."
Sager-Albaugh: "Well I understand that there’d be a lot of considerations for instance the health of the sheep population differs from area to area, so I understand that would be a consideration. I guess I’m trying to determine what the general philosophical feeling of the group is on providing greater opportunity for residents over nonresidents in sheep hunting.
Buist: "We just didn’t look at it that way, I’m sorry." [note the non-answer there]
Sager-Albaugh: "That’s fine if you didn’t, thank you."
Hoffman: "Pete, in your testimony you referred to a, um, just want some clarification on your statement about rams going to waste in Region III, can you touch on that a little?"
Buist: "The point was, even though the choice of words may not have been terrific, is…it’s getting harder and harder to go to the hills and find a full curl ram. It’s not that there’s a terrible surplus of them in the places where we can still hunt. And our thought on this was this would put more pressure on that already somewhat limited resource."
End of Q & A from the Board
Okay, with all due respect to Pete, does anyone else see a problem here? I mean, what other state allows nonresidents to take 40% of that state's sheep harvests annually? And how can any Alaskan org not support a clear resident preference, especially after admitting sheep population are down and there is not "a terrible surplus of them in the places we can still hunt"?
And this thing in his comments that us residents "typically overlook the cost, season length, and proximity advantages" we enjoy by living here...well I frankly found that offensive when I heard it in person at the meeting, and even more offensive when I transcribed it. Sure we don't have to hire a guide to hunt sheep, but just by living here we absorb much higher costs of living than do nonresidents, the cold and the dark, and there really isn't much of a proximity advantage for the resident hunter who lives on the chain, or southeast Alaska...as far as cost of getting to the Brooks Range. And as far as season length...he is arguing against residents even having a longer season length.
As for the revenue argument, I don't buy that if we limited non-res opportunity more that the reductions in license and tag sales are going to seriously be affected, because for one, if the Guide Concession Program pans out, as APHA has stated publicly it would "significantly reduce" the number of guides operating on state lands, which would ostensibly also reduce the number of nonresident sheep clients...and for two the Board of Game has said that if the GCP doesn't go through they are looking at possibly limiting all nonresident opportunity by capping it as other western states do at 10-15% of available opportunities for species like sheep. And for three, all license and tag fees need to be raised imo, and residents need to pay more in order to prevent this kind of logic/rhetoric from taking hold.
Anyway, shouldn't rant, but I've been troubled by what's going on with our sheep hunting opportunities and I just wasn't happy with the strong opposition to the idea of Proposal 16, the position taken by the WSF Alaska chapter, and the many guides who testified.
Would like to hear ideas about how we can get Alaska hunting orgs/chapters to support a resident sheep hunting preference, as is outlined in our state constitution and is the norm in every other western state. And what solutions there may be to effectively and fairly limit nonresident sheep hunting opportunity...not because I or anyone else doesn't want our non-res brethren to come to Alaska to hunt sheep, but because it really is the right thing to do, and sooner rather than later imo before more areas go to draw only.
Oh, the "subsistence" law mentioned in the WSF written comments is, I take it, referring to Intensive Management law, and even though sheep were not included as species to be intensively managed for high levels of harvest for human consumption, that in no way means or meant that we do not/should not have a clear resident priority for sheep hunting.