Howard Delo

By the time you read this, Thanksgiving will be over. I hope you had a good day, enjoying a fine meal with family and/or friends, and watching all the football you could manage. This is the time of year when we reflect on all the blessings God has given us and thank Him for being kinder to us than we deserve.

I’ve been writing about stuff I enjoy doing over the last few weeks, but it’s time to get a bit more serious. About a month ago, I learned that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was in the process of reviewing water rights reservations for Willow Creek.

Apparently, state law requires DNR to review water rights reservations on rivers and creeks every ten years to document any changes in flow or new requests to access some of the water for some new project which developed since the last reservation review.

On Willow Creek, the water flow is reserved to provide for salmon returns during the appropriate season. To my knowledge, there is no other documented request for any of the water other than for fish. When the person doing this water rights reservation review made a presentation to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission (MSBFWC), she stated there was no economic value for the current water reservation. She had no clue of the value of sport fishing to the borough’s overall economy.

The preliminary findings she presented indicated that a relatively small amount of water was excess to fish needs in July and August (around fifty cfs or cubic-feet-second), and that Fish and Game had agreed that the amount of water indicated as surplus could be removed from the reservation. When asked who or what needed this “surplus,” she said there was no current request for the water.

I understand the requirement to review water reservations periodically. I also understand the need for a review if there has been a request to use some of the water involved in the reservation. However, I don’t understand giving up part of a water reservation when there is no request for it. I also don’t understand why Fish and Game would willingly agree to losing protected water for salmon when there is no other demand and the variables of annual water flow have not been well documented. In drier years, that surplus water might just be what carries the salmon through a difficult spawning season.

This same review process will be applied to, among other Southcentral water systems, the Little Susitna River within the next year or so. Until the recent decline in salmon returns in the Northern District over the past few years, the Little Susitna River was the major silver salmon system in the valley and supported good numbers of king, sockeye, chum, and pink salmon as well.

I can only hope we get more lead notice on these other upcoming water reservation reviews so comments and information can be made available to the DNR reviewer to substantiate that sport fishing has a significant impact on the area’s economy.

Another concern involves the potential antlerless moose drawing permit hunts. The application period for the 2022 hunts is currently open. I have heard discussion that antlerless moose numbers are down and that, perhaps, there should be no antlerless hunts, at least in some areas of the Valley.

The local Fish and Game advisory committee (AC) is exactly that – an advisory committee to both the fish and game boards. However, one area where they are more than just advisory involves their authority to block antlerless moose hunts in the areas the committee represents.

I normally apply for these hunts in Unit 14A and as I get older, these hunts are becoming more important to my moose hunting efforts. However, if a recommendation from our local AC was made to the Board of Game against holding an antlerless hunt in this area, that hunt would not happen. If I had paid my application fees for these hunts and they were not authorized, my money might not be refunded. I have seen this before, so the precedent has been set.

Now if the numbers of antlerless moose are low enough that no hunt should be held, I would support that decision. However, that level of information has not been made public through any news release to date that I’ve seen. On a fixed income, I can’t afford to “donate” money to Fish and Game, so it would be nice to know beforehand what might happen.

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