Given recent actions to increase sustained yield of moose (Alces alces) in Alaska, USA, we examined factors affecting yield and moose demographics and discussed related management. Prior studies concluded that yield and density of moose remain low in much of Interior Alaska and Yukon, Canada, despite high moose reproductive rates, because of predation from lightly harvested grizzly (Ursus arctos) and black bear (U. americanus) and wolf (Canis lupus) populations. Our study area, Game Management Unit (GMU) 20A, was also in Interior Alaska, but we describe elevated yield and density of moose. Prior to our study, a wolf control program (1976–1982) helped reverse a decline in the moose population. Subsequent to 1975, moose numbers continued a 28-year, 7-fold increase through the initial 8 years of our study (λB1 = 1.05 during 1996–2004, peak density = 1,299 moose/1,000 km2). During these initial 8 hunting seasons, reported harvest was composed primarily of males (x̄ = 88%). Total harvest averaged 5% of the prehunt population and 57 moose/1,000 km2, the highest sustained harvest-density recorded in Interior Alaska for similar-sized areas. In contrast, sustained total harvests of <10 moose/1,000 km2 existed among low-density, predator-limited moose populations in Interior Alaska (≤417 moose/1,000 km2). During the final 3 years of our study (2004–2006), moose numbers declined (λB2 = 0.96) as intended using liberal harvests of female and male moose (x̄ = 47%) that averaged 7% of the prehunt population and 97 moose/1,000 km2. We intentionally reduced high densities in the central half of GMU 20A (up to 1,741 moose/1,000 km2 in Nov) because moose were reproducing at the lowest rate measured among wild, noninsular North American populations. Calf survival was uniquely high in GMU 20A compared with 7 similar radiocollaring studies in Alaska and Yukon. Low predation was the proximate factor that allowed moose in GMU 20A to increase in density and sustain elevated yields. Bears killed only 9% of the modeled postcalving moose population annually in GMU 20A during 1996–2004, in contrast to 18–27% in 3 studies of low-density moose populations. Thus, outside GMU 20A, higher bear predation rates can create challenges for those desiring rapid increases in sustained yield of moose. Wolves killed 8–15% of the 4 postcalving moose populations annually (10% in GMU 20A), hunters killed 2–6%, and other factors killed 1–6%. Annually during the increase phase in GMU 20A, calf moose constituted 75% of the predator-killed moose and predators killed 4 times more moose than hunters killed. Wolf predation on calves remained largely additive at the high moose densities studied in GMU 20A. Sustainable harvest-densities of moose can be increased several-fold in most areas of Interior Alaska where moose density and moose:predator ratios are lower than in GMU 20A and nutritional status is higher. Steps include 1) reducing predation sufficient to allow the moose population to grow, and 2) initiating harvest of female moose to halt population growth and maximize harvest after density-dependent moose nutritional indices reach or approach the thresholds we previously published.
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Vol. 73 • No. 3