• Distribution of hunter groups and environmental effects on moose harvest in Interior Alaska

      Hasbrouck, Tessa R.; Brinkman, Todd; Stout, Glenn; Kielland, Knut (2018-12)
      Moose (Alces alces) is one of the most valuable wild game resources in Interior Alaska. In recent years, residents of rural indigenous communities have expressed concern that climate change and competition from non-local hunters are challenging local moose harvest opportunities. I collaborated with wildlife agencies and village tribal councils to co-design two studies to address rural community hunter concerns. The first study assessed the spatial and temporal distribution of local and non-local hunter groups to examine areas of potential competition. The second study addressed changing environmental factors and their impacts on moose harvest. Although competition among local hunters or among non-local hunters certainly occurs, competition between local and non-local hunters, or between resident and non-resident hunters is a more common and reoccurring issue. Local hunters are those who hunt in the area in which they reside whereas non-local hunters travel away from the area they reside to hunt. I assessed hunting patterns by local and non-local hunters in a remote hunting region near the interior villages of Koyukuk and Nulato to quantify moose harvest overlap between these two user groups to assess potential competition. I used Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) moose harvest records to develop a relative competition index that identified locations and time periods within the hunting season where the greatest overlap occurred from 2000-2016. I determined that the highest competition occurred between 16-20 September (i.e., peak harvest period) and was concentrated predominantly along major rivers. To decrease overlap and mitigate potential competition between hunter groups we recommend providing information on competition hotspots to hunters, or lifting the no-fly regulation in the Koyukuk Controlled Use Area with the caveat that hunting with the use of aircraft must occur 1.6 km from the Koyukuk River corridor. These actions may provide hunters information on how to re-distribute themselves across the landscape and allow hunters to use areas away from rivers, where most harvest currently occurs. Additionally, climate change and seasonal variability have anecdotally been documented to impact moose hunting opportunities. Specifically, warm temperatures, delayed leaf drop, and fluctuating water levels are concerns expressed by some local hunters. I quantified changes in temperature, leaf drop, and water level near Koyukuk and Nulato and the subsequent relationships between these environmental variables and the total number of moose harvested using linear regression models. I used temperature data, gauging station data (i.e., water level), remote sensing data (i.e., leaf drop analysis), and ADFG moose harvest records and explored previously untested hypotheses and to quantify relationships from 2000-2016. I concluded that non-local hunter harvest success was more dependent than local harvest success on environmental conditions. Non-local harvest significantly increased with higher water levels from 6-10 Sept (p=0.02), 11-15 Sept (p=0.02), and 16-20 Sept (p<0.01), and decreased with warmer temperatures in the same three time periods (p<0.01, p=0.02, p<0.01, respectively). Local harvest increased with higher water levels from 16-20 Sept (p<0.01). These results quantitatively show that environmental factors do impact hunter success. I speculate that local hunter harvest success is less dependent on environmental variability because they have the ability to harvest opportunistically, rely more heavily on the resource, and reside near the hunting area. This ability to opportunistically hunt and adapt may give them an advantage over non-local hunters as environmental conditions shift with climate change.