The landscape of the Kenai Peninsula is turning from brown to green, fish are beginning to return to streams and calves are beginning to show up among the peninsula's moose population.
"Actually, there are some already born, but the peak of calving is the 25th or 26th of May," said Jeff Selinger, Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist.
Selinger said pregnant cows will give birth anytime from early May into June, but a large percentage of calves are expected during the middle of next week.
"There is an optimal time to be born in these climates, the earlier you can be born when there's sufficient forage for cows," Selinger said, explaining that lactation requires a huge amount of energy from a cow moose. "The earlier you're born, the longer you have to grow before winter. The bigger you can grow before winter, the better your chances of making it." And while frolicking baby moose trigger nurturing instincts in just about every human being, Selinger stressed that moose are almost always better off when nature is left to take its course.
"One big thing is picking up moose calves," Selinger said. "I personally dealt with 11 calves last year. I know people think that they're helping ; I can understand that, human nature is to help out ; but the best thing to do is generally to leave it alone."
Selinger said that some cows will keep their calves nearby at all times while others may leave them unattended for hours at a time. Behavior also varies from calf to calf ; some will stay put and wait for their mother to return while others will get up and go looking for mom.
Selinger said several calves found homes last year after people presumed they were abandoned and brought them to Fish and Game. A few went to a zoo in Ohio, the Moose Research Center was able to take a couple and a few more went to Big Game Alaska.
However, Selinger said it isn't likely he'll be able to find that many homes this year.
"It strikes human emotions pretty hard, but the system has evolved to produce excess animals, and some moose calves aren't going to make it," Selinger said. "Some animals are going to die every year. It's not necessarily a tragedy. Moose calves generally are best left out in the woods by themselves. They'll get back together if the cow is a good mother."
Selinger did say there are some situations which may be exceptions and encouraged people to contact Fish and Game if they spot a moose they think has been abandoned.
Fish and Game also should be notified of loose dogs harassing wildlife. The department's policy has been to put down such animals.
"One of the biggest problems we have in this area is loose dogs harassing animals, whether it's caribou or moose or birds, for that matter," Selinger said.
Harassment by dogs can have several effects, Selinger said. Some are direct, like a bite wound, while others may be indirect. For example, a cow that has been agitated by loose dogs may be more aggressive toward other critters that approach it ; including children out playing or people stopping to take pictures.
Agitation also may affect a cow's ability to produce milk for her calves, something a cow needs to devote as much energy to as possible if her calves are to grow from their birth weight of roughly 20 pounds to somewhere in the range of the 300 pounds they'll be next fall.
Selinger said he expects an average crop of calves on the peninsula this year. Relative to last year the peninsula moose population experienced a significantly higher die-off, but this past winter was not considered severe, he said,
Instead, Selinger said the biggest concern in regard to the health of the peninsula's moose population continues to be degrading habitat.
"When you look around town and see bushes that have been hedge-rowed, that's a sign we're carrying too many moose," Selinger said.
Selinger said that each time a plant is browsed by a moose, particularly willows, the plant will produce more tannins as a response.