The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is working with the Kenai Natives Association to boost available moose browse on 85 acres north of Sterling. It is a partnership that Fish and Game hopes will spark conversation about potential future collaborations to improve Kenai Peninsula’s Game Management Unit 15A moose browse, said Sue Rodman, Fish and Game program coordinator.
“Looking at the big picture, all the land owners that have an interest in moose habitat, at some point I see us sitting at a table and having that discussion,” Rodman said.
Federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service own or manage about 71 percent of the Peninsula land; and Native associations, the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the state and private land owners own or manage the remaining about 29 percent, said Jeff Selinger, Fish and Game Kenai area wildlife biologist. Rodman said the conversation is only now starting and there has been little success collaborating between the agencies to bolster the 15A’s dismal moose browse.
“There’s lots of particular arrows that could come together to build a moose habitat improvement plan,” she said.
Fish and Game’s partnership with the Kenai Natives Association is an example, she said.
On the 85 acres the Kenai Natives Association owns off Swanson River Road, Fish and Game is felling aspen and spruce trees that have shoots — or browse — that are out of reach for moose and provide no browse.
Downing the trees will open the canopy and let in more sunlight to promote future aspen shoot growth, and it will provide fuelwood and biomass for the Kenai Natives Association, Rodman said.
A partnership with that kind of dual benefit — to moose habitat and the land owner — is the type Fish and Game hopes will eventually foster a comprehensive plan or approach to improve 15A moose browse, she said.
But there is a challenge, she said: “Can we cut down trees in places where we can get that biomass and fuelwood out and where we can generate browse growth?”
The individual effort on the Swanson River Road property will not generate enough new browse growth to reverse 15A’s declining moose population, Selinger said.
The 1969 forest fire, which produced exceptional moose browse for decades, ran through about 80,000 acres, he said. Habitat regeneration would have to occur on a similar scale to improve 15A’s declining moose population, he said.
“If you’re using strictly mechanical manipulation, you’re talking millions of dollars to do the type of work you’re trying to do to have an impact on your moose on a population scale,” he said.
The work from Fish and Game’s partnership with the Kenai Natives Association will produce some browse for moose, but not a significant amount, he said. Likely, the moose will find and eat the new shoot growth before it flourishes, he said.
A portion of a $250,000 state grant funds the moose habitat enhancement project, according to a Fish and Game press release.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.