Question on protecting or not protecting Kodiak Island’s antlerless deer to be decided by Federal Subsistence Board

Regulation changes could be coming for Kodiak Island’s black-tailed deer population, including what kind of deer and how many can be taken by subsistence hunters. The proposals will ultimately go before the Federal Subsistence Board later this spring.

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Wildlife managers and the regional advisory council are still divided over Kodiak’s antlerless deer hunt across Kodiak Island. The Office of Subsistence Management (OSM) supports allowing hunters to take antlerless deer, but the Kodiak Regional Advisory Council (RAC) is opposed.

During this month’s Kodiak/Aleutians Subsistence Regional Advisory Council meeting on March 8, the ten-member group reiterated its position from last year that antlerless deer, like a doe or fawns, should not be hunted. As member Patrick Holmes summed up, the council says the Sitka Black-tailed deer population on the island needs certain protections.

“Right now it’s a tenuous position for the deer population. Some places are up, some are down. I’ve heard from folks in the villages and places where they say that some of the places they go [to], that the deer population are way down,” Holmes stated.

But a proposal submitted by the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge to the Federal Subsistence Board seeks to remove the hunting restriction on antlerless deer, which it views as an unnecessary limit on deer harvest for residents in the Kodiak management area known as Unit 8, which covers the entire Kodiak Island Archipelago. And according to harvest data from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, 3,841 hunters harvested 4,129 deer in 2022 within Unit 8. Currently, antlerless deer like fawns can only be taken from Oct. 1 to Jan. 31.

The hunting restriction has been in place since 2002 due to concern over dwindling deer population numbers. But the Wildlife Refuge says that’s not supported by biological data. In the proposal documents, the Wildlife Refuge said, “there is no biological basis for this restriction of which we are aware. The current regulation, set in 2002, was based on anecdotal information indicating that the deer population had crashed in response to severe winters in the late 1990s.”

Members of the regional advisory council, however, say their observations and local knowledge indicate otherwise.

“So my observations, things I’ve been hearing, were that our deer numbers are somewhat down again. Certainly there was as much of a recovery last winter as many of us had hoped there would be. We had a fairly mild winter last year,” Kodiak RAC member Samuel Rohrer said. “And the expectation was that we would see a really big bump this year in our deer numbers and we just didn’t really see that.”

As for how the animals are doing this winter and spring, Rohrer said it is too early to tell.

Both the Wildlife Refuge and the Kodiak Regional Advisory Council (RAC) agree that severe winters have been a big factor on the deer’s survival rate. But the council is also concerned about the effect transporting hunters into backcountry hunting areas is having on locals’ access to the island’s black tail deer population.

The newly elected RAC chair, Rebecca Skinner, said a transporter working group under the Kodiak Advisory Committee with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will discuss the issue of local access further.

“If you have your favorite [hunting] spot, you may go there and you can’t actually get deer because it’s being used more by transporters and their clients,” Skinner said.

Aside from retaining the current antlerless deer restrictions, the advisory council is requesting an increase in the annual harvest limit from three to four deer. The Federal Subsistence Board is scheduled to meet on April 2, in Anchorage, where it will approve or vote against the proposals. If the Board decides to approve the wildlife proposal, changes to Unit 8’s deer hunting regulations would take effect on July 1, 2024.

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