A well-utilized dead moose retrieval program is in jeopardy after the organization that runs the program was denied its $2.2 million funding request to the Alaska Legislature.
The Alaska Moose Federation is soliciting private donations for its moose salvage program — which was used to pick up more than 150 moose on the Kenai Peninsula last year— as well as two other programs which focus on moose conservation after their request was denied.
The moose salvage program works by sending volunteer drivers and specially-equipped trucks to the scene when troopers call to report that a moose has been hit and is dead on the road.
Drivers pick up the moose and deliver it to local charities and individuals on a list maintained by the troopers.
The organization scaled back their salvage efforts in response to the funding denial. Typically volunteer drivers of moose federation trucks are “on call” 24 hours a day, now the trucks remain parked until a driver gets a call from Alaska State Troopers about a moose that needs to be picked up, resulting in a longer response time.
Typically the program slows between April and September, however, the organization’s founder, Gary Olson, said if the group could not find funding by October the salvage program would not continue.
“October is when a lot of the collisions start back up,” he said.
While portions of the moose federation’s conservation efforts have had their efficacy called into question, the moose salvage program had been lauded as successful by the Alaska State Troopers as well as community members and organizations who receive the moose after it has been removed from the road.
Olson said he was not surprised at the loss of state funding, but hoped communities would step in to fill in the aid gap and continue to fund the moose federation.
“We’re regionalizing the program,” Olson said. “If, say, Fairbanks all of the sudden comes to the aid, Fairbanks is going to go. If Kenai says ‘We’re going … this is important, we’re going to do it,’ then it’s going to go in Kenai. Money from Kenai is not going to go to Mat-Su and vice versa.”
Currently the organization operates 13 trucks with the equipment to retrieve dead moose from the roadway. Each costs about $10,000 a year to operate and maintain.
Four of the trucks operate on the Kenai Peninsula, two in Anchorage, two in Fairbanks and five in the Mat-Su Valley.
While state grants paid for the purchase of the trucks and equipment, it did not pay for the continued operation of the program, Olson said.
Laurie Speakman, a volunteer driver on the Kenai Peninsula, and Walt Hitesman, a volunteer driver from Palmer, estimated that they spent several hours a week — typically enough to qualify as a part-time job, if not more — answering calls from the state troopers who respond to collisions.
Without the program, Olson said, people on the list would be out on the roadways attempting to collect moose — sometimes with improper equipment or in the early morning hours — forcing troopers to spend more time at the accident scene.
“Normally it takes two or three hours to go cut up a moose on the side of the road,” Hitesman said. “We get it picked up in six to eight minutes, that frees up the trooper and gets the road back as safe as it can be.”
Speakman said charities on the Kenai Peninsula have grown accustomed to having the moose federation deliver the moose and may have a hard time adjusting to having to find the equipment and time to remove the ungulates from the roadway.
“They’re very thankful that they don’t have to leave their homes,” she said.
Two other programs operated by the moose federation, including a “habitat enhancement” designed to keep moose away from traffic corridors and a facility in Willow designed to house orphaned moose calves until they can be released into the wild, have been called into question by critics of moose federation’s methods.
Olson said if the organization did not receive the funding to operate all of its programs, the salvage program would be prioritized.
“The main reason is because it’s proven,” he said. “The other programs haven’t had the opportunity to prove themselves yet.”
Still, Olson said, it’s frustrating to operate a program that is reactive rather than addressing collisions by moving moose away from the roadway.
“The salvage program only comes to work after a collision has occurred,” he said. “Oh, blood in the road, so I guess we’ve got to go and fix something. What we’re trying to do is go and put the salvage program out of a job. If we do a good enough job to enhance habitat back away from the roads, to make snow trails to give the moose everything they need back there away form the road, then why be here on the road where they’re getting hit? We don’t want to be the best at just picking up dead moose off broken cars and hurt people. We want to be the best at trying to reduce the collisions and get them out of there.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.