State shuts down guided hunting
April 23, 2020
The start of bear hunting season has been delayed for nonresidents until May 31 as part of efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Last week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) announced the suspension of bear hunts for residents and nonresidents, with an exception for subsistence hunting. The same day, Alaskans began circulating an online petition, asking the state to reverse its decision. The petition gained 7,308 signatures.
The following day, the department amended the closure to allow residents to hunt as long as they observe state-issued health mandates including six-foot spacing from other people and restrictions on non-critical travel between Alaskan communities. Hunting for non-subsistence purposes is not considered critical, the department said.
Although the revision will allow most Alaskans to proceed with their spring bear hunts, hunting guides will still feel the impact. Haines hunting guide Larry Benda, who owns Alaska Fair Chase Guiding, said he had three clients scheduled to come up during the month of May to hunt brown bears. This translates to $35,000, roughly a third of his business’ yearly income, he said.
Benda said he has spent the past few days asking ADF&G to reconsider. He said he intends to submit a plan for how to keep his clients effectively quarantined during their hunting trips and ask the state to make an exception. His clients are hunkered down in their homes in the Lower 48 right now, Benda said. He said he would plan to collect these clients at the airport or ferry terminal upon arrival in Haines and take them directly to the woods where they would remain for two weeks during their hunting trip. And he would quarantine for another two weeks after his clients left.
Benda said it seems arbitrary that other industries like the commercial fishing industry are classified as essential and allowed to operate while his small, guided-hunting business is shut down. If the government is serious about preventing people from entering Alaska, “they would have to shut the borders and planes and the ferry coming from Bellingham,” he said.
“This was done to reduce non-critical travel in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus across Alaska,” Department of Fish and Game commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang wrote in announcing the suspension.
Enforcement will fall to the Alaska wildlife troopers who will treat violations the same way they do when anyone is found hunting during a season that is closed, ADF&G wildlife biologist Carl Koch said.
Benda said he has told his clients to hold on to their plane tickets on the slight chance something changes, but he said he doesn’t think that’s likely. He said he’s worried the nonresident hunting ban could be extended further into the summer.
In its press release, the Department of Fish and Game said it will make additional details available in the coming days.