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Group clears brush for moose benefit, plant regeneration

Posted: April 16, 2012 - 7:36am
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Elania, front, and Ted Spraker, left, help clear brush Saturday in Soldotna near the Kenai Peninsula Borough Administration building as part of a Safari Club International, Kenai Peninsula Chapter, conservation project. The group said the clearing would stimulate new summer growth to help keep local moose from starving next winter.   M. Scott Moon
M. Scott Moon
Elania, front, and Ted Spraker, left, help clear brush Saturday in Soldotna near the Kenai Peninsula Borough Administration building as part of a Safari Club International, Kenai Peninsula Chapter, conservation project. The group said the clearing would stimulate new summer growth to help keep local moose from starving next winter.

Chain saws hummed early Saturday morning, singing a commemorative tune to the sweat equity being produced by a handful of volunteers hunched over in the mangled, wooded Soldotna lot.

The dozen volunteers worked throughout the morning cutting, hauling, collecting and disposing of brush that had been heavily browsed by the area's moose population. The name of the game was destruction for future plant regeneration, which ultimately helps keep moose from starving this time of year and off the road, said volunteer Ted Spraker.

"If everyone would have done this last year around town, we wouldn't have lost any moose in town from starvation," said Spraker standing on the lot's sidewalk across from the Kenai Peninsula Borough administration building.

Tom Netschert, who serves on the Board of Directors for Safari Club International, Kenai Peninsula chapter, was in charge of the conservation project and said the group's work is important.

"Our motto is anything for the moose," said Netschert, also a volunteer for the Alaska Moose Federation, which donated use of a few trucks and chain saws for the group. "This will grow more food for them next year."

Spraker agreed, adding it was the group's third time doing such work around town. In total, the group hauled six truckloads of brush out of the lot Saturday and plans to pick up another batch of about the same amount later in the week. Some of the brush hauled away was already dead due to over-browsing, Spraker said.

"We're not trying to encourage moose to come into town, but the moose are going to be here anyway and that's the bottom line," he said. "If you live in Alaska, you will have moose. So rather than let moose starve to death, this will provide a little bit of food for the local town moose next year."

It works like this -- moose start to get hungry in the winter and browsing local brush gets to be slim pickings. Much of what gets digested early in the winter is the new growth sticking up from the snow, Spraker said as he pulled up a branch from the ground.

"From here to here is called the current annual growth," he said. "Moose eat just this part unless times are tough and then they'll eat into what is called the second year growth."

The reason is because young growth is high in bark content and low in wood, which moose can't digest.

"This is the most bang for the buck, the most beneficial for digesting," Spraker said.

After the brush tops are teethed off it doesn't grow back quite right -- more out and branching off of itself instead of up into the air and out the top of next years' snow cover.

"So the food is there, but it is unavailable," he said of what usually happens.

The work, which involves sawing off growth flat and close to the ground, is time sensitive. Spraker said the trimming must occur before the nutrients stored in the plant's root system release and trigger new growth brought on by the Alaska summer.

From one stump may sprout up to 15 new stems, Spraker said.
"It really just explodes," he said.

Cutting off the example branch he held and examining the plant's inner rings, Spraker estimated its age at 10 years old. While it was only three-quarters of an inch in diameter, other large trees in the area were likely just as old, but they had previously escaped moose teeth.

"The problem is that it grows a little bit, gets hedged off like this and it never has a chance to really fully develop," he said.

Netschert said the group has permission from other organizations to do similar work, including the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Spraker agreed, adding he hoped the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service get more involved in major habitat enhancement in the thousands of acres.

"The purpose of this is to get people to do this around their property," Spraker said looking around. "This isn't a large scale operation, but this is something individuals can do that are concerned about moose around their neighborhood."

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.

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