Chugach: Critics say the limited effort won't prevent overpopulation
Doug O'Harra / Anchorage Daily News / March 12, 2005
| Four moose could be stalked and killed in a popular hiking area of Chugach State Park above the Anchorage Hillside under a fall hunt approved Friday by the Alaska Board of Game.
The limited hunt -- centered on the upper forks of Campbell Creek east of the Powerline Pass trail -- could prove that moose can be safely taken near town, according to area biologist Rick Sinnott of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
"The problem in Anchorage is we have too many moose," Sinnott told the board. "Four moose is not going to turn the wagon around, but it's a start. ... I'd rather have four moose (killed in a hunt) that I'm convinced is going to be safe rather than have them starve to death or be hit by cars."
Details must be worked out by April 1 for the hunt to start in September, Sinnott said in a phone message after his presentation. "I'm going to give it a shot," he said.
The proposal comes amid growing concern by residents over urban moose, estimated to number 700 to 1,000 around the Anchorage Bowl this winter. A few weeks ago, a Muldoon boy got kicked in the face by a moose that had been fed by neighbors, and police killed the animal.
Last year, the Alaska Moose Federation successfully pushed for a state law that would allow a private group to transplant problem moose. Others have argued that moose numbers have dropped since last winter, so people ought to be working out a long-term moose management strategy, not starting a hunt.
This would mark the first Hillside moose harvest since a bow hunt in 1983 turned into public relations nightmare for the state, with gut piles left in suburban yards and wounded moose sporting arrows in their rumps.
To make sure nothing like that happens again, this hunt would be restricted to permit winners using muzzleloaders or shotguns at least a half mile from any private land, Sinnott said. Other rules would require certification and orientation, removing all guts from the kill site and, possibly, direct supervision by state biologists or Chugach Park rangers.
Hunters supported this as a good first step, said Steve Flory Sr., chairman of the Anchorage advisory group to the Game Board. It's better than letting moose starve in winter or get creamed in traffic.
"The available winter browse is decreasing and will continue to decrease as we build more houses," Flory added. "They're not going to munch on houses."
A Hillside resident said the decision doesn't make any sense, given recent moose declines. And wildlife activists argued that it was the wrong solution at the wrong time.
"It's about hunting opportunity. It's not about solving a problem," said Linda Donegan, an Upper Huffman area resident who worked with neighbors to oppose previous hunt proposals.
"It's a potshot at a bigger problem that needs to be part of a more comprehensive look," said Karen Deatherage, with Defenders of Wildlife in Alaska. "It's going to cause a lot of controversy from the public. And for what? For four moose. It's not worth it."
Deatherage said she wants biologists and agencies to take the approach toward Anchorage's moose that they did toward urban bears. A committee met for two years and submitted proposals for bear zoning, now under consideration by consultants rewriting Anchorage land use regulations.
"This experiment is not going to do anything to resolve moose conflicts in the city," Deatherage said
The Chugach State Park Citizens' Advisory Group opposed the hunt too, citing concerns over safety and the "lack of biological justification," wrote chair Jenifer Kohout in a letter to the board. "Avoiding overpopulation is not consistent with the small number of moose that would be taken."
Board member Ted Spraker, a retired state biologist who liked Sinnott's proposal in general, questioned this issue as well. "Why should we get involved with this if we're not going to reduce your population?" he asked.
"We recognize that four moose won't do it," Sinnott replied.
But if this hunt succeeds for two years, it could be expanded to other parts of the Anchorage management unit, including city parks, he said. The larger harvest could then become a tool to reduce crashes and other conflicts over moose.
"But if we can't do it here, then there's no sense in even talking to the city about having (a hunt) in their parks," Sinnott told the board.
Chugach Park superintendent Jerry Lewanski told the Game Board that he would defer to state biologists on the need for a hunt and be willing to issue permits allowing the four hunters to discharge firearms in the area.
Lewanski added that he would prefer that the hunt be part of a larger effort to manage the city's moose and not be focused on the park. "If we were part of a comprehensive look, there wouldn't be so much opposition to a hunt in the park," he said.
An estimated 2,000 moose roamed within the Anchorage municipal limits in 2003-04, with half in urban areas. Hundreds starved during last year's deep snows, and at least 188 were killed on city streets.
By contrast, hunters killed only 54 moose in greater Anchorage in 2004, mostly in restricted hunts on Fort Richardson or up Twentymile River valley, Sinnott said. That's down from a 10-year average of about 90 moose.
Hunts now take place inside the city limits of Homer and suburban areas between Wasilla and Palmer without major problems, Sinnott said. Cyclists and hikers roam the Eklutna Lake area in fall without ever realizing that 15 to 20 hunters may be actively stalking animals on the mountainside.
Board members praised Sinnott's proposal before approving it, saying the hunt appeared to be precise and workable.
Daily News reporter Doug O'Harra can be reached at email@example.com.
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