Hunters could face a substantially-shortened deer season and reduced bag limit for a large portion of Kupreanof Island close to Petersburg. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Wildlife Division is worried about deer numbers in the popular hunting area because of a combination of factors, including wolf predation, severe winters and the loss of habitat from logging. So, the division is asking the State Board of Game to cut the four-month season back to two weeks. Matt Lichtenstein reports:

Lindenberg Peninsula is in the center of the frame. Mitkof Island with Petersburg is to the lower right.

Kupreanof’s Lindenberg Peninsula is located just across the sheltered Wrangell Narrows from Petersburg. It includes the Tonka Log transfer facility and a system of logging roads that provides some of the most accessible deer hunting opportunity for nearby residents four months a year. The Wildlife division proposal would restrict the Lindenberg season to just two weeks at the end of October. The bag limit would also drop from two bucks to one. The state had the same rules in place from 1993 to 2002 due to low deer numbers.

During a recent meeting of Petersburg’s Fish and Game advisory committee, state Wildlife Biologist Rich Lowell said Lindenberg was facing the same problem today:

“The deer population is at very low levels over there. That’s confirmed both by our pellet group transects and by our estimates of hunter harvests over there. For example Kupreanof island as a whole in 2003, the area yielded 409 deer. In 2009, that was a steady decline down to 48 deer on all of Kupreanof Island,” he said.

Lowell said most of the Kupreanof deer harvest comes off Lindenberg, which is roughly a third of the Island. The most recent harvest estimate for 2010 climbed to 75 deer, according to Lowell, but that’s still just 18 percent of the 2003 number.

“Therefore we feel it is prudent to take conservation measures, take a step back to the two week season, one buck bag limit until that population recovers,” he said.

The situation, according to Lowell, is comparable to Petersburg’s home island of Mitkof which has long remained under a two-week, one-buck limit because of low deer numbers. The Mitkof population has yet to recover enough for the state to ease those restrictions.

Lowell said predation by wolves and bears, several cold winters, and a loss of winter habitat due to extensive logging are part of the problem for deer on Lindenberg. He pointed out that another major timber sale project is getting underway at Tonka as well.

Lowell said, “We’re going to see additional loss of habitat carrying capacity on lindenberg associated with planned timber harvest activity over there. So you’ve got habitat issues at play. We know from research on Prince of Wales Island that black bears play a part in mortality for fauns. We know we’ve got wolf predation and on old deer.”

So, along with the Lindenberg harvest restrictions, according to Lowell, the department is planning a separate proposal for a new wolf-control program aimed at reducing predation on deer in the area. State-sponsored wolf-kill programs have long met with controversy elsewhere in Alaska. That wasn’t the case for Petersburg’s Fish and Game Advisory Committee which expressed general support for the idea.

Rather, the committee’s recent discussion focused on the Lindenberg deer harvest.

From the audience, resident hunter Ben Case raised concern that the season restriction was too drastic and had not been publicized enough. Considering the lack of recovery on Mitkof, He didn’t think there was enough evidence that the same measure would work for deer on Lindenberg.

Case said, “We’ve got to get the word out a little bit more too and get some people’s input. I realize the deer population isn’t going gangbusters over there but I also don’t think it has the potential, with the wolf numbers that we have and the winters that we have around here, to go gangbusters. I think its going to be cyclical. We’ve seen other areas deer numbers drop off the books like Warenofski Island. When I lived in Wrangell, you couldn’t find a deer over there when I moved there in the early 90’s and prior to that, that was the place people went………and it crashed, you know. I’d hear about people not seeing tracks over there where they traditionally took their deer and now they’re hunting it again and they kept an open season.”

Instead of just two weeks, Case suggested the Department consider a Lindenberg season that opened August first, as it does now but closed sometime before the rut, when breeding bucks are most vulnerable to hunters, which often starts by early November.

But the restrictions were welcomed by a couple other local hunters in the audience who recounted historic data as well as their own observations of declining hunter success and deer numbers. Ed Wood recalled that during a 10-day trip on Lindenberg many years ago, he passed-up 25 bucks before choosing one to shoot. He said you don’t see that anymore.

“I seriously support restricting the hunt over there and predator control because it’s not like it should be. And there’s going to be enough logging over there now which provides really good feed and habitat in the summers. It doesn’t do a damn thing for them in the winter. With all that second growth that’s been thinned over there, those deer have a really hard time along that road system. So, I think we really need to look at our harvest. I think we need to look at some predator control,” Wood said.

According to 1996 study by state and federal researchers, a wolf can eat 26 deer a year. So, Advisory Committee member Kirt Marsh saw wolves as a bigger problem than the hunters, who sometimes kill wolves when they are deer hunting.

“I don’t think that the few deer that you’re going to save by not hunting is going to impact it like wolves will impact it. The Wolves are probably the big……..the Wolves and winters. But I think you might shoot yourselves in the foot by taking the hunters out of the woods that aren’t taking wolves,” Marsh said.

But the majority of the committee thought the shorter season and lower bag limit was necessary. Chair Arnold Enge was concerned that Lindenberg could end up completely closed if deer numbers continued to decline, “…and I’m listening to Rich and he’s talking about how there are less deer even on this Island, over there everywhere except, I guess in my mother’s flower garden. But I don’t want to see us close this place down anymore. So, if it has to go down to being a two week season, its less opportunity but its better than not having an opening.”

The advisory committee supported the Lindenberg season and bag limit reductions on a six to three vote. The recommendation will go to the State Board of Game, which will decide Southeast proposals during a meeting starting January 11th in Sitka. The public can submit written comments to the Board on this or any other proposal through December 28th.
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