Alaska Moose Federation executive director Gary Olson says the project will keep moose from browsing along the Parks Highway corridor, thus helping to reduce moose – auto collisions. The Federation has launched programs the past couple of winters: one to remove live moose away from roadways, another to collect the animals’ carcasses when moose run afoul of traffic. Olson says the latest plan will lure moose away from the road by providing a smorgasboard of moosey delights.
“We’re trying to do some different programs now that will actually encourage the moose to live back in the woods other than hanging around these highway corridors. “
The project is taking place in an area that was charred by the Miller’s Reach wildfire about fifteen years ago, Olson said.
“And there’s a lot of moose in there. And so if we can go in and demonstrate how industry can assist in these conservation programs we’re hoping this demonstration project provides a model that the state and local governments and agencies can actually try to do in more areas to enhance more habitat.”
The three way partnership is using donated funds and equipment to meet expenses. Alaska Operating Engineers will provide a D8 caterpiller bulldozer and an apprentice operator and an instructor for the job. The dozer will pull a 40 thousand pound roller chopper behind it to crush more than four acres of willow an hour.
“And it’s a big drum, with cutting discs on it. And what it does is it replicates how after a natural fire you get all that regenerated willow and birch.
The downed trees spur the generation of new growth in the understory that is attractive to moose.
Tom Harris, the CEO of Knikatnu Native Corporation in Wasilla, says moose are sure to follow their noses.
“The moose has the biggest nose on the continent and if there’s food out there they are going to find it. “
Harris is a long time advocate for habitat enhancement programs aimed at increasing the numbers of moose. He says the Moose Federation’s project also could provide hunting opportunities. Harris says urban hunters are competing with rural Alaska hunters for the same moose
“If we can provide an increased chance for harvest on the road system, then that hunter is less likely to want to go to a remote community and be competing for a moose that’s critical for the Western or rural villages of Alaska. Today, a pound of meat that is store-bought is anywhere from seven to 20 dollars a pound. Well, at 600 pounds of moose meat, that’s a pretty expensive bill. As a result of that, the loss of a moose to a rural family can be as much as the replacement cost of 8 to 10 Permanent Funds,” he said.
Harris says if there are more moose in the Valley, urban hunters won’t have to fly out to rural Alaska for opportunities.
State Fish and Game assistant director of wildlife conservation, Tony Kavelok says the program is on private land, and Fish and Game has not been consulted.
“We have a question about the value of doing that specific for moose in that area. I can’t imagine that it’s going to have a significant increae in moose use. This will be a small postage stamp in a bigger area, ” Kavelok said.
And it is not certain that the land in question has the biological potential for enhanced habitat. Fish and Game wildlife physiologist Bill Collins, with the Palmer office, says moose may linger in a area where food is tasty, but in general the animals have fixed habits, and tend to traverse the same terrain year after year. He says it is not likely they will stay in one place for long.
Olson says the program got started over a week ago, but workers are taking a temporary break due to spongy spring conditions. He says they’ll resume in coming weeks.