Updated at 10:10 a.m.
Alaska’s Board of Game chose to take no action on a proposal to remove domestic sheep and goats from the clean list, and provide additional safeguards to ensure the M. ovi virus carried by domestic sheep does not infect Alaska wild sheep, goats and muskox.
Before deliberation, the board received a legal decision that it does not have authority over domestic animals in Alaska, so it does not have the authority to remove animals from the clean list. After that opinion, the board immediately shifted to discussion of future actions both sheep raisers and wild sheep advocates can do to make progress toward a solution.
Chairman Spraker listed four goals:
- a report within a year on the status of the disease in Alaska
- another report summarizing where wild sheep habitat exists in the state
- a commitment to immediately kill any wild sheep, goat or muskox that contacts any domestic sheep or goat
- tighter controls on any import of domestic animals into the state, including testing for M. ovi
“If this falls through the cracks (and disease strikes Alaska’s wild sheep), it will be on the shoulders of the people in this room,” Spraker said. Spraker repeated the recent sample testing, which found animals infected with M. ovi on 27 percent of Alaska farms tested.
The board looked at a number of contentious issues related to wild sheep Thursday, as it’s 3-year meeting in Anchorage continues.
Other proposals rejected included a proposal to create a tiered limit on sheep, to promote harvest of older rams and penalize hunters who harvest a younger ram, regardless of whether it was a legal full curl ram.
The ban was a proposal by the Alaska Wildlife Sheep Foundation to remove domestic sheep and goats from the clean list in Alaska, and require a permit with restrictions for anyone to possess domestic sheep and goats within 15 miles of wild sheep range.
The concern is that domestic animals carrying M. ovi (sheep pneumonia) could infect Alaska’s wild sheep population. More than 175 dieoffs off wild sheep in the Lower 48 have been attributed to infection from domestic sheep.
Opponents, primarily in the farming community, consider the proposal a vast over reach of government into their right to raise animals which have not been traced to any infection in Alaska. There has not been any case of M. ovi documented among wild sheep in Alaska. In most other states, if a wild sheep is found to have contacted domestic sheep, it’s killed immediately by wildlife authorities to prevent potential outbreaks.
There’s not exact documention, but it’s reported there are about 1500 domestic sheep and goats in Alaska, compared with about 45,000 wild Dall Sheep and 27,000 wild mountain goats. Muskox numbering 4,000 in the state are also said to be vulnerable to M. ovi.
The two groups have tried without success to find a compromise that works for both sides for several years, so it will be interesting to see if the BOG takes the aggressive move to effectively outlaw domestic sheep or amends the proposal at some way.
Two other controversial proposals likely to get attention later today would either legalize or outright ban the release of feral house cats into the wild. One group backed by the Humane Society advocates for more wild cats, while biologists including ADF&G oppose wild house cats as an invasive and destructive predator on small game animals.
That discussion is streaming live at:
Other sheep proposals would create a sliding scale bag limit on Dall sheep for residents and give non-residents more opportunities to apply for sheep tags.
Other proposals 0n the agenda today would:
- Remove the guide requirement for non-residents hunting moose and black bears in Alaska.
- Allow proxy hunting for moose in antler-restricted areas.
- Modify rules for transport and possession of game meat.
- Change the age for required hunter education to 12 and require hunters under 12 be accompanied by someone who has passed the course.
Wednesday the board tackled a number of technology-specific proposals, including reviewing rules for same-day flying and hunting. The board did add more restrictions to the use of any wireless device including cell phones, satellite phones, drones and trail cameras for taking game animals.
In a general sense, it was already illegal to use electronic devices to aid in killing a specific animal, but the board and game troopers wanted more specific restrictions as hunting technology continues to improve.
In general, the board kept coming back to safety versus efficiency–a device that keeps a hunter safe in the field is acceptable, but using that device to make it easier to find and kill a specific animal is not legal.
The specific change added a time element, so that if a hunter uses a wireless device to locate an animal, say by getting a cell phone call from a companion, the hunter may not hunt or harvest that animal until after 3 a.m. the following day–very similar to the same-day restrictions long in place for flying and hunting.
A complete summary of BOG actions is available here:
The board is scheduled to wind up deliberations Friday in Anchorage.