Bear hunting is big business in Kodiak, but a proposed state law would mean big changes for guided hunting on state land.

House Bill 158, now before the Alaska House of Representatives’ resources committee, would chop the state into small districts and establish firm caps on the number of guides allowed to work in each district.

The strictly regulated program would be managed by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources on lines similar to those used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on lands managed by the federal government.

Nonresident hunters are required to have a guide or be accompanied by an Alaskan family member when they hunt brown bear, Dall sheep or mountain goats. In recent years, however, the number of registered guides has risen to the point that both resident hunters and fellow guides have begun to complain.

HB158 would solve that problem, but DNR deputy director Ed Fogels admitted there are drawbacks. “It’s potentially a significant growth in government,” he said. “It also would mean more regulation on industry, and as you know we're trying to go in the other direction.”

If implemented, the program would consolidate Alaska’s guiding industry, but how much depends on who you ask.

The new system would create 298 “concessions” on state land, adding those to 181 operated by the federal government on Alaska land it controls. The state does not keep track of concessions operated on private land, and the Bureau of Land Management does not limit guides on its land.

According to state figures, there are 1,428 licensed guides of all types in Alaska, but many of those either do not accept clients or are assistant guides who may not be eligible to run a state-land concession.

HB158 does not directly create those concessions. Instead, it gives DNR the authority to implement a plan that has been in the works since 2006.

Under the plan, guides would submit applications in up to three of more than 100 areas across the state. Those applications would then be graded by DNR staff on a point system that includes marks for knowledge of the rules, experience in the field and knowledge of local customs.

DNR would then award either a full or limited concession to the guide. Under a full concession, the guide could bring an unlimited number of hunters to the area each calendar year and have up to six assistant guides beneath him.

With a limited concession, the guide could bring only four clients per calendar year and have only one assistant guide.

The concession would last for 10 years, but the guide must pass a five-year review. After 10 years, the guide would have to compete with other applicants for the area. The concession cannot be traded or sold.

Joey Klutsch is a 28-year-old from King Salmon who guides in Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula and supports the measure. “I realize that as a young guide, I might not win one of these concessions right off the bat … but that's OK because it's to the benefit of the resource, and that's what it's all about,” he said.

Klutsch said he’s seen growing hunting pressure on the Alaska Peninsula and wants to make sure that there are enough animals to attract clients as he builds what he hopes is a decades-long career. “The only way I see me as a guide lasting 40 years is if something major happens in the guiding industry itself,” he said. “The way it stands now, if it doesn't happen, something more drastic is going to be put into place.”

Kodiak guide Tim Booch is among the camp that supports differently.

“This is really an issue of loss of free-market enterprise that's got a 125-year history,” he said.

Booch, who guides in the Aleutians and Kodiak, said he hasn’t seen more crowding in areas he frequents and thinks the issue is being driven by Railbelt hunters who frequent easy-to-reach areas.

“The real problem that I've seen in my experience has been with a handful of greedy, selfish residents, a handful of greedy, selfish transporters,” he said. “They didn’t want any more competition; that’s what this is really about.”

Booch prefers to see the state reform its guiding system through the state Board of Game and the Big Game Commercial Services Board, which could come up with a less costly and more inclusive approach, he said.

As currently proposed, the concession program would include a $2,000 fee for each full concession and a $1,000 fee for each limited concession. Guides would also pay a $250 application fee and pay up to $500 per client.

“Alternatives ought to at least be considered and talked about,” he said.

Several large hurdles remain before DNR could change the guiding system. HB158 must be approved by the House’s resources, finance and judicial committees before coming to a full vote. It would then face approval by the Senate.

A tentative timeline provided by DNR calls for implementation of the guide concession program by Jan. 1, 2015, assuming the Alaska Legislature passes HB158 by the end of its 2013 session.

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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