The state’s Board of Game unanimously struck down a proposal that would have required young hunters in Southeast to complete an education course to be able to hunt on their own in the vast majority of the region.
The board decided that the change could cause too much potential red tape in remote areas, and unfairly limit subsistence hunters while costing too much for the state’s fish and game department.
The proposal would have required all Southeast area hunters born after January 1, 2010 to be certified through an education course to hunt alone.
Without that certification, they’d have to hunt with someone born before that date, or someone already certified through the new course. This would have applied to game management units 1 through 5. That’s almost all of Southeast, including Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island, Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell, Haines, Skagway, Yakutat, Pelican, Hoonah and Angoon.
The proposal was brought forward by the Juneau Douglas Advisory Committee.
Kevin Maier is the committee’s chair. He told KRBD the idea started with a committee member who volunteers as a hunter education instructor. The committee wrote in their proposal that they hoped it would reduce firearm accidents in the field. The committee also wrote that online options could go a long way in making the course more available to remote communities.
“He really sees the value in the program and thinks that it’s a good avenue to introduce youth to hunting, and to do so in a safe way,” Maier said. “And so yeah, he’s been a big advocate. When we (the committee) met in the spring, he put that proposal through and, and we’re happy to support him and happy to support that idea.”
Maier said his group is aware of all the ways Juneau differs from the rest of the region.
“We’re aware that it’s easy to sit in the Capital with, you know, relatively stable broadbands,” he said. “And access to all the resources that we enjoy, and, you know, advocate for this. We think it’s a great program.”
Maier said his committee was “realistic” about their expectations, and didn’t expect it to get past the board.
“But we also recognize that there are some concerns for accessibility,” he explained. “And I think there’s also some interesting sort of cultural issues too, you know, like, I think in villages, you learn different ways, and you learn through different different methods, and we don’t intend or want to undo those or or undercut those in any way.”
Sitka-area biologist Steve Bethune explained the proposal to the Board of Game during Saturday’s deliberations. The department’s official position on the proposal was “neutral” headed into the Board of Game meeting.
“While the department is in favor of certification courses to educate hunters, and decrease firearm incidents, the logistical barriers of Southeast Alaska would make it extremely difficult to reach every hunter who would be required to complete hunter education under this regulation,” Bethune said. “Normally diligent subsistence users who live in units one through five may find it difficult to comply due to these logistics and thus the reasonable opportunity to take an animal for success for subsistence uses may be hindered.”
He said the state’s Department of Fish and Game already has a hunter education program, with eight staffers and 500 volunteers. But that might not be enough to meet the demand that the requirement would cause — especially for communities off the road system, where travel is expensive and weather-dependent much of the year.
Stosh Hoffman of Bethel is the board’s vice chair. He expressed concern about families that rely on hunting.
“In some of these very rural areas, having someone require them to get a license to feed their families is kind of contradictive it just doesn’t flow, sit well with me,” Hoffman said. “In fact, it could cause a lot of harm if we required that, so I’m not in support of it.”
Member Jake Fletcher of Talkeetna worried the regulation would prevent elders from passing on traditional knowledge.
“I think that in this state, we’re really unique,” he said. “I think we depend on our elders in our community to impart a lot of this knowledge onto our youth and take them out. And it’s really important.”
Ultimately, the board had too many concerns to pass the proposal, and unanimously voted against it.
But despite voting the proposal down, the board wasn’t against increased hunter education — especially for youth.
Wasilla-based member Lynn Keogh shared an idea.
“When I was in elementary school, I went through hunter ed in school,” he said. “So it seems like it’d be at least worth a conversation for the department (of Fish and Game) to get with the various school districts around Alaska and see if maybe they can offer the program and kind of carry the ball there.”
Saturday was the beginning of the Board of Game’s deliberations on game proposals from all over Southeast Alaska. The hunter education proposal was the first deliberation the group took up, as it was at the top of the list of proposals affecting multiple regions. The board meeting runs through Tuesday in Ketchikan.
Raegan Miller is a Report for America corps member for KRBD. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution at KRBD.org/donate.