The Kuskokwim’s moose population is thought be on the rise and this winter, game managers are hope to get the hard numbers down. The could then have the option to change the region’s limited moose harvest.
The Kuskowkwim area moose quota has been at 100 moose per year for four years as the population rebuilds. Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service plan to fly the river this winter to get a solid population estimate. Phillip Perry is the area wildlife biologist with Department of Fish and Game. He says the latest data is from 2011 when they counted about 700 moose near the main stem.
“Some of the indications are that we are growing fast enough that we could be one and a half or double that. So we could have 1000 to 1500. I’d be really happy if we have 1500 moose,” said Perry.
They count another 300 or so moose around tributaries. On top of population numbers, managers will also need to look at things like twinning rates – that is the portion of cows with calves that have twins. That points to the quality of habitat and availability of food. The Kuskokwim currently has high twinning rates. The population numbers will help inform the quota.
“What we anticipate is whatever that number is, we will base just the quota. If it grows by 30 percent, the quota will probably grow by 25 or 30 percent. If it grew by 30 percent, 30 percent of the quota ends up being about 30 more moose,” said Perry.
If better snow conditions come about, the researchers could complete the surveys in 10 to 12 flying days. So far, there hasn’t been enough snow to accurately count moose. And that same poor weather may be slowing hunters from traveling to and around the Lower Yukon where a hunt is open.
“It may just change when they harvest them. We still have enough time during next 5 weeks of the season we could still harvest the same number of moose. It may be shifted a little farther back than in other years,” said Perry.
The Lower Yukon population has grown greatly, but Perry says the ecosystem appears to be holding up.
“However that works out it’s still a productive system and probably not going to crash immediately. Especially with a winter like this it’s probably pretty easy on them. It’s not deep snow, a little bit of ice, but boy, there’s a lot of food available,” said Perry.
And for those who have been hunting on the Yukon, Perry reminds them to turn in their harvest reports.