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Local Farmer Cited After Moose Eat Hay from Shed

Dan Joling / AP / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / January 21, 2005


A Fairbanks farmer who shot a moose in self-defense was cited for negligently feeding the animal by not keeping it away from the hay in his open-sided shed.

Noel Napolilli, 59, was issued a $110 citation by an Alaska State Trooper on Wednesday under the same law that prohibits leaving out bird feeders or garbage that attracts bears.

Napolilli has two horses on his 40-acre farm off McGrath Road. The hay was in a pole barn with a roof but no walls.

"They concluded I was baiting the moose," Napolilli said. "I've been storing hay in that barn for 35 years."

Lt. Gary Folger of the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement said such a citation is not unprecedented. Two were issued last year.

Napolilli, a retired high school teacher, has requested a court date. He said troopers are misreading the law that prohibits the intentional leaving of human food, human waste, garbage or pet food to attract wildlife.

"I'm obviously not trying to attract wildlife, and it's not pet food," he said.

Napolilli said his moose encounter began at about 10 a.m. Wednesday when his 14-month-old German shepherd, Geyer, began barking furiously. Napolilli looked out his window and saw three moose at the shed.

The young bull had the dog backed up in deep snow. Napolilli grabbed his shotgun.

By the time he got outside, the animals had moved behind his camper, he said. He came around the corner of the vehicle and the moose, from 20 feet away, charged him and the dog, he said.

Intending only to scare the moose, he said, he fired two rounds of No. 6 or No. 8 bird shot. The moose ran about 40 feet and fell over dead.

Napolilli called the Department of Fish and Game. A wildlife protection officer also arrived and spent much of the day at his property with a metal detector, Napolilli said. After a discussion at trooper headquarters, the trooper issued the illegal-feeding citation.

Troopers concluded Napolilli shot the animal in defense of life and he was not cited for killing the animal.

Lt. Folger said troopers recommended that Napolilli erect boards along the bottom of the structure or surround it with an electric fence.

Napolilli said fellow Fairbanks farmers and even feed stores use similar hay sheds. And he's tried an electric fence.

"The moose go right through it," he said. "If there's something on the other side they want, it does not deter them in the least."

Tom Seaton, a Fish and Game Department wildlife biologist, said the threat to moose from eating hay in winter is real. Moose have a complex digestive system that depends on microbes.

One kind of microbe, which breaks down greens, is dominant in summer. A second kind, which breaks down woody browse, is dominant in winter, Seaton said. In spring and fall, there's a slow transition.

"The microbes change as the seasons change," Seaton said.

If a moose in midwinter has been eating woody material, then suddenly fills its gut with hay, it can take several weeks for microbes to break the hay down, Seaton said.

"It essentially starves before the hay is passed through its gut because the microbes aren't there to decompose the hay," he said.

His department has found moose starved to death with their stomachs full.

"It's not just theoretical, it happens," he said.

Also, moose that get used to feeding near humans can become aggressive to bystanders or neighbors, he said.

Napolilli contends he should not have been cited. Legislators did not intend their wildlife feeding law to apply to people storing hay in a barn on their own property.

"At least I hope the judge sees it that way," he said.

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