Linking Hunter Knowledge with Forest Change to Understand Changing Deer Harvest Opportunities in Intensively Logged Landscapes
Todd J Brinkman, University of Alaska-Fairbanks
Terry Chapin, University of Alaska-Fairbanks
Gary Kofinas, University of Alaska-Fairbanks
David K Person, Alaska Department of Fish and Game
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The effects of landscape changes caused by intensive logging on the availability of wild game are important when the harvest of wild game is a critical cultural practice, food source, and recreational activity. We assessed the influence of extensive industrial logging on the availability of wild game by drawing on local knowledge and ecological science to evaluate the relationship between forest change and opportunities to harvest Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis
) on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. We used data collected through interviews with local deer hunters and GIS analysis of land cover to determine relationships among landscape change, hunter access, and habitat for deer hunting over the last 50 yr. We then used these relationships to predict how harvest opportunities may change in the future. Intensive logging from 1950 into the 1990s provided better access to deer and habitat that facilitated deer hunting. However, successional changes in intensively logged forests in combination with a decline in current logging activity have reduced access to deer and increased undesirable habitat for deer hunting. In this new landscape, harvest opportunities in previously logged landscapes have declined, and hunters identify second-growth forest as one of the least popular habitats for hunting. Given the current state of the logging industry in Alaska, it is unlikely that the logging of the remaining old-growth forests or intensive management of second-growth forests will cause hunter opportunities to rebound to historic levels. Instead, hunter opportunities may continue to decline for at least another human generation, even if the long-term impacts of logging activity and deer harvest on deer numbers are minimal. Adapting hunting strategies to focus on naturally open habitats such as alpine and muskeg that are less influenced by external market forces may require considerably more hunting effort but provide the best option for sustaining deer hunting as a local tradition over the long run. We speculate that managing deer habitat in accessible areas may be more important than managing the overall health of deer populations on a regional scale. We further suggest that the level of access to preferred hunting habitat may be just as important as deer densities in determining hunter efficiency.
access; forest change; hunting; local knowledge; logging; Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis; Sitka black-tailed deer; subsistence
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