The Alaska Moose Federation, the Anchorage based group aimed at relocating moose from urban to rural areas, has scored a legislative windfall of $1.5 million for additional moose rescue and relocation programs. Some wildlife professionals are critical of the federation’s current, and future, place in wildlife management.
In February of this year, the Alaska Moose Federation received a state permit to begin a moose relocation program in the Matanuska and Susitna Valleys. The permit came on the heels of a more than one million dollar state grant allowing the Federation to set up feeding stations for moose, which, federation officials claimed, were threatened with starvation due to deeper than usual snow in the areas North of Anchorage.
As it turned out, not one moose was moved under the temporary relocation permit. Ron Davis is the federation’s director of finance and administration
“So we couldn’t relocate any moose. We were ready to.”
Davis says that the moose relocation program authorized from late February to the end of March of this year, didn’t work because of problems with the US Department of Agriculture wildlife services technicians required to dart the moose with tranquilizers.
“After the permit was issued, the next step was for Fish and Game to monitor the darting of moose calves for relocation. And that process was never completed. Fish and Game never became available in the last five weeks of the permit to finish that process of darting. “
Dale Rabe, fish and game’s deputy director of wildlife conservation, says when the permit was issued, his department had the understanding that USDA would do the darting, but the agriculture department refused to release the tranquilizer drugs unless Alaska Fish and Game staff were trained. “It was new” Rabe says, and “could not fit into fish and game’s schedule”
But the Moose Federation has plans to move many more moose next year, up to one hundred, from urban to rural settings. The state grants will be used to further the federation’s plans for years to come, according to federation executive director Gary Olsen. Davis downplays that plan
“We have the capacity to move hundreds of moose. I’m sure he’d like to, but it is not his choice. First you have to have the moose available, then Fish and Game has to decide where the locations are fit. “
The group will be permitted by Alaska Fish and Game this year to rescue orphaned moose calves and care for them “until deemed healthy” and released back into the wild with collars for tracking. But some biologists are uncomfortable with the Federation’s future plans. Vic Van Ballenberghe, a noted moose biologist, calls the federation’s plans “ill-advised”
“To do it on a large enough scale to think that you are going to be creating a significant number of more moose in the wild is pretty difficult.”
Van Ballenberghe says the survival rate of calves raised in captivity is low, and even if a calf survives to be released
“When you release them into the wild, they have difficulty, because they don’t know the area, they don’t know where to find food, they don’t know how to cope with predators. And so, there’s a multiple set of problems connected with this. “
But Davis says the federation’s main goal in moving moose is to help keep highways safe for both moose and humans.
Davis says the federation spent about 60 thousand dollars this year from the first legislative grant on 157 miles of diversion trails and eleven feeding stations. Davis claims those feeding stations helped to decrease moose vehicle collisions 25 – 50 percent
“And we probably were stopping about five collisions a week, from the nearest we can tell, from building those trails. And that was the number one goal, public safety.”
To that end, federation members established The Alaska Moose Stewardship Endowment earlier this month . Davis says it will be a long term fund, a trust endowed with the monies from the first legislative grant, which were not spent on the diversionary trails program.
“We will be building a moose permanant fund for the future”, Davis said.