The Alaska Moose Federation, a nonprofit that salvages roadkill moose and brings them to member charities and individuals, is suspending its operations due to a lack of funds.
It’s not the first time the organization, which has trucks in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla and Kenai, has put things on pause. It shut down partly in 2014 due to loss of funding but stabilized with new leadership in 2015 under its current executive director Don Dyer.
That year, it signed a contract with the Alaska Department of Transportation that provided a steady source of funding. When that contract ended in 2017, the federation suspended the salvage program again.
In its most recent iteration, AMF was sustained by memberships. Charities on the peninsula paid $500 for a membership, which helped foot AMF costs, like gas. Elsewhere in the state, salvage teams of Alaskans paid $100 for memberships. Truck drivers, all volunteers, picked up moose and coordinated with Alaska State Troopers to drop them off to members. Being a member of AMF was not required to be on the salvage list, but nonmember charities or salvage teams had to pick up and transport moose on their own.
Recently, funds have been drying up, said Dyer. Part of that is due to a lawsuit Dyer inherited. He wouldn’t go into details about the suit, but said that the federation just finished paying the settlement off. He said he used money from equipment he sold, not membership dues, to do so.
“When I stepped into running the Moose Federation, I did not at the time understand what the implications were, ’cause I was told that the federation had the resources to pay it off,” Dyer said. “And after a month, I found out they didn’t. So I decided to do the work to honorably meet those obligations, and I have. But it’s taken over five years to get that settlement paid off.”
Adding to the financial woes is a decline in memberships. Dyer said charities usually buy their memberships in October when people are getting their Permanent Fund dividends. This October, there were crickets.
“You know, with so many people out of work, I guess with the COVID-19 thing, we had probably 15 or 20 charities there in the Kenai area that were participating as members, and that was able to make it so that the Moose Federation could be funded in that area,” he said. “And now, there’s too few to be able to carry on.”
On the Kenai Peninsula, especially, he said, fewer members have renewed memberships.
Laurie Speakman was the truck driver on the Kenai. She’s affectionately known as “Laurie the Moose Lady.”
Speakman, who lives in Soldotna, started picking up moose in 2012. She estimated she picked up 30 to 40 this year but said work started getting slow recently.
“This was my main thing for years. And I poured my heart and soul into it, and I kind of chose not to work,” she said. “And I recently actually just did go get a job.”
Even though AMF has previously resumed its activities after hiatus, this time it might be more permanent, Dyer said.
“It had been stopped when I took the Moose Federation over. And at the time, I had assets that could be sold and other resources to make it work,” he said. “However, at this time, all we have now is the trucks. And if you sell the trucks, you can’t pick up moose.”
He added, “My last paycheck was in March of 2017. It has been more than a trial of faith to get this thing done.”
AMF has four trucks left in its fleet.
Lance Roberts is a volunteer with Kenai’s Grace Communion International, one of the charities that work with AMF. He said AMF made moose pick up much safer. Without it, things will get dangerous again.
“Because people, like me, I got a truck, I go out there, I don’t have a winch for the back of my truck,” Roberts said. “So I gotta skin, gut, quarter that thing alongside the road. A lot of times, I’ll hook a noose around its neck and pull it up the road to where it’s safe. Lot of times you can’t do that, it’s down in a ditch. So, it can be snowing, blowing, visibility is terrible, and you have somebody alongside the road taking care of a moose. That takes a while.”
Speakman said, eventually, she might want to try and do something on her own.
“I have offered Don Dyer cash for the truck. If I did do something it would be more geared toward Fish & Game,” she said. “’Cause I was picking up a lot of private property moose with them, and to remove a hazard off somebody’s property that can’t, I really enjoyed it.”
It’s hard to imagine someone who’s nicknamed “The Moose Lady” doing anything else.