Historically Low Alaska Sheep Harvest

Yellowknife

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There has been some discussion about the impact that recent winters have had on the Alaska Dall Sheep population. ADF&G recently dropped the 2021 harvest data that helps put things in perspective.

Some history. Ram harvest in Alaska last peaked in the late 1980's, early 1990's with an average of over 1,400 rams taken each year. It started declining in the 2000's and has hovered in the 700-800 range for the last decade. It then dropped to a historic low of around 600 in 2020 and dropped even further to 464 in 2021. This is the lowest harvest number I'm aware of since data became available. Very possibly the lowest harvest number in 100+ years.

Chart of the last 5 years. A drop of 40% from recent numbers.


1658257556487.png

Caveat here. I'm not a biologist, and these are simple open source numbers with no QA/QC applied by me. ADF&G tends to edit thier numbers from time to time, but they should be pretty close.

Other historic numbers. After the poor year of 2020, hunter numbers dropped off to the lowest level in modern times for 2021, with just over 1,900 in the field last season compared to nearly 2,400 in 2020. I expect that to drop further this year. Despite few hunters, success rates declined even further, with the first recorded year of sub <20% success for residents. Some formerly excellent units saw single digits. Non-residents (mostly guided) that typically average 64% success rates have dropped to 44%.

The cause of this is fairly well established I believe. Deep snow in 2012 and a very late spring in 2013 effectively slaughtered the lamb recruitment in much of the state. Those are the mature rams we should be currently hunting. Then after a string of good winters, we have again hit several years of deep snow in 2019-2021. This has effectively thinned the adult herd leaving us very few rams left to chase right now.

So with that good news.... have fun out there. :) I'm planning on a sheep hunt myself, but starting to wonder why.

Yk
 

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Mykolaivka887

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So, you're saying there's a chance !

Sent from my SM-G973U using Tapatalk


Yes, there's a harvestable surplus still out there. That's why the State hasn't gone to a statewide EO closure for Dall sheep. However, it's not going to get any better within the next 20 years and is more than likely (guaranteed) to become even worse as time goes on.

There's a management strategy that will effectively turn things around for Dall sheep in Alaska, but selling that strategy to Alaska residents and hunting guides and some people within the Department, is an effort in futility and would cost someone several hundred thousand dollars to push through with a professional lobbyist.

Bottom line is that if you're considering a hunt for Dall Sheep in Alaska, you best go now, because things are only going to get worse. Historical numbers don't lie.
 

Bambistew

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There's a management strategy that will effectively turn things around for Dall sheep in Alaska, but selling that strategy to Alaska residents and hunting guides and some people within the Department, is an effort in futility and would cost someone several hundred thousand dollars to push through with a professional lobbyist.
Care to share this strategy? Saving a few rams isn't going to make more ewes. Limiting NR pressure just swaps who gets to notch the tag. Limiting harvest to 1:4 or something silly like that, doesn't limit overall harvest in any meaningful amount. Very few hunters kill more than one ram in 4 years. Most don't even kill one in 4 years...

I wouldn't be surprised to see harvest under 400 this fall. There was more 7yo shot last year than normal, about 25-40% of the average 8yo harvest, and less than average amount of 9yos. Harvestable rams this fall will be the lowest ever. This year will be cleanup for anything that survived and was legal last year, and I'd expect a lot of young rams in the harvest. The good news is we had great lamb crops following 2013 winter and mild winters. I think we'll see a little bump and then plateau. I'll be surprised if we see 600 rams killed again in the next decade.
 
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oenanthe

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Fbks, AK
...
There's a management strategy that will effectively turn things around for Dall sheep in Alaska, but selling that strategy to Alaska residents and hunting guides and some people within the Department, is an effort in futility and would cost someone several hundred thousand dollars to push through with a professional lobbyist.
...
Are you talking about winter feeding, or something else?
 

Mykolaivka887

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Just to clear the air, I don't discuss political strategies on an open public forum, because it's counter-productive. But kudos to the OP for bringing this issue back to the forefront.
 

slick

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I thought I read management strategy? Last I checked biologists weren't political strategizers.

Sure, it could get political when brought to BOG.

Management strategies are routinely discussed for every other species all over this forum.
 
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Mykolaivka887

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Wildlife management in the United States, and especially in Alaska, is about managing people. This is especially true within the Alaska Dept of Fish & Game, Div of Wildlife Conservation, where wildlife professionals are tasked with managing people, as opposed to managing wildlife. You can thank Congress for that and its handling of the D-2 lands bill (circa 1979).
 

slick

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Mykolaivka887

Thank you for the history lesson.

I'm still curious to know what your perceived solution is in terms of people management strategy.
Having the answer and being unwilling to educate and share doesn't aid your cause. I'm genuinely just curious what you think a solution is.
 
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CodyAK

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Yes, there's a harvestable surplus still out there. That's why the State hasn't gone to a statewide EO closure for Dall sheep. However, it's not going to get any better within the next 20 years and is more than likely (guaranteed) to become even worse as time goes on.

There's a management strategy that will effectively turn things around for Dall sheep in Alaska, but selling that strategy to Alaska residents and hunting guides and some people within the Department, is an effort in futility and would cost someone several hundred thousand dollars to push through with a professional lobbyist.

Bottom line is that if you're considering a hunt for Dall Sheep in Alaska, you best go now, because things are only going to get worse. Historical numbers don't lie.
Concessions?
 

CodyAK

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We can't control weather. If we're talking about closures, it needs to be for everyone to include subsistence users. That needs a good overhaul anyway. Do we limited guide usage, aircraft access, and incentivize predator control? Do we keep HT hunts for residents but make NR’s apply? Quotas specific to their respective ranges? Some of the solutions are good on paper but I don't see a lot of them having the effect we would like to see. I'd hate to see it come to a draw for everyone. I'm curious as to what Mykolaivka887 to say.
 

Snyd

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I hate to say it, and it won't happen but Sheep Hunting probably needs to be totally shutdown statewide for everyone for a year or two. We can't kill enough coyotes and wolves to make a difference and surly can't kill any eagles and as mentioned we can't control the weather (although there are those who believe we can control the climate but that's another discussion) so that brings us back to us human predators. If we didn't kill 1000+ rams over the next couple years and no subsistence ewes were killed (can they kill ewes under subsistence?) would that make a difference for the sheep? I have no idea. Just thinking out loud here.
 

Mykolaivka887

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When considering the fact that there's a harvestable surplus out there and as such, there's not a biological concern, so complete closure of Dall sheep hunts won't fly, politically speaking. Add to that, the dual management between state and federal. So, complete closure isn't happening.
 

CodyAK

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I hate to say it, and it won't happen but Sheep Hunting probably needs to be totally shutdown statewide for everyone for a year or two. We can't kill enough coyotes and wolves to make a difference and surly can't kill any eagles and as mentioned we can't control the weather (although there are those who believe we can control the climate but that's another discussion) so that brings us back to us human predators. If we didn't kill 1000+ rams over the next couple years and no subsistence ewes were killed (can they kill ewes under subsistence?) would that make a difference for the sheep? I have no idea. Just thinking out loud here.

Some areas allow ewes to be taken for federally qualified subsistence hubters
 

wildwilderness

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I'm sure there are many Political barriers to sheep numbers increasing, and increased hunting opportunities, here are some ideas that won't fly-

-First off Make Sheep management a priority, like moose and caribou are
-Open all federal land to sheep hunting! Lots of closed areas in Nat'l Parks!!!
-No subsistence sheep hunts
-Kill golden eagles!
-Winter feeding? May be the only way to combat bad winters/spring
-Breeding program? heck, should throw some stone/fannin sheep in there as well!

-Maybe make Non-Res a draw statewide, cap the number???

On a side note if the State is going to take control back from the Federal Gov, NOW is the time to do it with the current Supreme Court!!! We need someone in F&G to push that!
 

CodyAK

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I'm sure there are many Political barriers to sheep numbers increasing, and increased hunting opportunities, here are some ideas that won't fly-

-First off Make Sheep management a priority, like moose and caribou are
-Open all federal land to sheep hunting! Lots of closed areas in Nat'l Parks!!!
-No subsistence sheep hunts
-Kill golden eagles!
-Winter feeding? May be the only way to combat bad winters/spring
-Breeding program? heck, should throw some stone/fannin sheep in there as well!

-Maybe make Non-Res a draw statewide, cap the number???

On a side note if the State is going to take control back from the Federal Gov, NOW is the time to do it with the current Supreme Court!!! We need someone in F&G to push that!
I can't remember what podcast or zoom meeting it was BUT movi is the biggest concern with winter feeding and breeding programs.
 

wildwilderness

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I can't remember what podcast or zoom meeting it was BUT movi is the biggest concern with winter feeding and breeding programs.
Yes, disease is always the risk with feeding and breeding programs. Sonora Mexico has been very successful at breeding Desert Bighorns. I'm sure where there is a will there is a way.

Would be nice to make a cure, or genetically modify the sheep; CRISPR to be immune....
 
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