Community seeks solutions to musk ox management problems
By Diana Haecker
Public pressure mounts to effect change of musk ox management in Nome as the community still reels from Curtis Worland’s death due to a musk ox goring on December 13.
The management objective of ADF&G is to grow the musk ox population, not to decrease it, and this objective is now meeting stiff resistance from Nome residents.
An online document drawn up by Nomeites Sarah Swartz and Miranda Musich, under the name group name of RRAMM – Reform for Rural Alaskan Muskox Management – includes letters of support addressed to game managers by Worland’s widow Kamey Kapp-Worland, Kawerak President Melanie Bahnke, the Nome Kennel Club and several people who recounted their stories of losing dogs to musk oxen, fearing for the safety of themselves and their children and being forced to pressure them out of their yards while running the risk of being attacked.
Kamey Kapp described in her letter the circumstances that led to her husband’s death as he tried to move a herd of musk oxen away from their dog kennel. “He was riding a snowmachine and instead of running away from the sound of the machine, one of the musk ox in the herd instead decided to charge him. He received only one injury – a fatal laceration to his deep femoral artery. He wasn’t able to get far away from the ox and his machine, back to the road before he bled out.”
She described the grim routine that mushers and residents alike have been forced to get used to: Moving musk oxen out of one’s space, one’s back yard, one’s sled dog kennel. “We are inundated,” she said. Kapp proposes to drastically reduce – albeit not eliminate entirely – musk ox herds in a 10-mile radius of Nome. “To start with, we need an immediate emergency order hunt established where a set number of animals are allowed to be harvested every other month to keep constant pressure on the local herds, reminding them that humans are not their protectors and they need to maintain their distance,” Kapp wrote. She added that the tier 1 hunt permits need to be increased and that ADF&G establish a task force to assist residents to keep musk oxen out of town or populated areas. “ADFG cannot continue to choose to intervene only when there is direct threat […] but need to join in proactively keeping them a safer distance away,” she wrote. “The gross mismanagement of musk ox in and around Nome needs to end now. A human – my husband – has lost his life as a direct result of this mismanagement.”
Kawerak’s Melanie Bahnke wrote that the problem far extends outside of Nome and to people in Brevig Mission and other villages, where musk oxen have knocked over fuel tanks. “The herd numbers continue to increase and we continue to fear for the lives of our animals and children, who cannot safely ride their bikes on the bike patch near the Teller highway, or even go for a walk near the Nome Public Safety building without worrying about the possibility of running into them,” stated Bahnke. “They are just as deadly as bears, which we would not be expected to tolerate roaming throughout our communities.”
In her letter, she implores game managers “to identify solid measures to keep our people, their pets and property safe from these animals.”
“You have not only the authority to enact game management actions to protect residents of the region, but also the obligation to,” Bahnke wrote.
According to Sarah Swartz, the list of respondents to their survey is growing. “We are discovering more and more how the growing presence of muskoxen affects the way of life for almost every resident in our region, both directly and indirectly,” said Swartz in an email to the Nugget. From the initial questionnaire of 84 respondents, 90 percent claimed they had themselves and/or their dogs attacked, injured or killed by musk oxen, she said.
“Our goal with R.R.A.M.M. is to reach any and all officials within the regional, state, and federal levels that may be able to influence or enact change with how wildlife, specifically muskoxen, are managed,” Swartz wrote.
She said the public dossier is addressed to Governor Dunleavy, State Senator Donny Olson, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, State Representative Neal Foster and U.S. Congresswoman Mary Peltola, the BIA and the National Park Service.
During a most recent Northern Norton Sound Advisory Committee meeting, commissioners heard testimony after testimony of musk ox attacks on dogs, cars, ATVs and their lack of fear of humans.
In response, the advisory panel has drawn up a letter to the ADF&G Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang, who also is the head of the Board of Game. The letter states that “the public is asking that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game review the Nome area muskoxen management strategy with a focus of reducing human and muskoxen encounters.”
The letter mentions the fence that was put up around the Nome Airport to keep musk oxen from gathering on the runways and stating the smaller City Field airstrip is still very much in harm’s way for aircraft landing and takeoff as musk oxen congregate there often.
The letter supports the public request for the department to review the current Nome Area Muskox Management Plan with a focus on reducing human/pet dog/sled dog encounters. The committee then suggested to reduce the herd size by allowing a limited female harvest, issuing more Tier 2 hunt permits and to consider a means of a more evenly distributed harvest over the season in TX095.