More snow should flush some ptargmigan out, says biologist

Jan 27, 2017

Fish and Game says perceived lower numbers of ptarmigan and hares are probably related to the low snow winters. More snow might push small game down from hillsides, and allow more hunter access.

Rock ptarmigan.
Credit ADF&G

KDLG: For a couple of years now, ptarmigan have been harder to find in some areas western Bristol Bay.  As KDLG’s Lawrence Hamilton reports, ADF&G thinks it has more to do with the lower amounts of snow than any problem with population of this popular game bird.

Wildlife biologist Neil Barten says ptarmigan have probably faired just fine at higher elevations during the past two warm winter. If this season sees more snow, it should help judge whether there has been any actual decline in the bird's population.

Hunters, he says, just haven't seen many lately.

"I think in general if the snow isn't pushing them out of those mountain valleys and some of those hills then they will stay high as long as they can," he says. 

Some more pressured areas of the state have put conservation measures in place.

"I know off the road system in between Anchorage and Fairbanks and the Denali Highway, up in that country, they have taken some conservation measures just because just because there are so many people hunting ptarmigan and using snowmobiles," Barten says. 

If the winter conditions improve, Barten believes more hunters and trappers will connect with their traditional small game.

"If the snow continues and people have a bit more opportunity to get out on their snowmobiles and get out to the further reaches of the valley, then they will have a bit more luck with both ptarmigan and hare," Barten says, adding that both species have a lot of territory to inhabit that is tricky to get to without more snow.  "They have lots of places they can be. A lot of them are in some of the higher valleys and unless you are getting up there you are really maybe not going to bump into them so much."

When conditions do improve, the harvest restrictions are pretty liberal: hunters in GMUs 9 and 17 have a bag limit of 20 ptarmigan a day with 40 in possession, and there is currently no bag limit for hares. 

Reach the author at lawrence@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.