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Another look at moose mortality numbers

Voices of the Peninsula

Posted: February 2, 2012 - 10:01am

The Refuge Notebook in the Jan. 27 paper by John Morton caught my eye since I worked for the Department of Fish and Game as a Wildlife Biologist from 1974 to 2002, 24 of those years on the Kenai. I appreciate the time Dr. Morton took to research the literature for the piece but he could have added more data to complete the picture for our local moose management concerns. If his intent was to demonstrate the danger and human safety concerns plus the loss of moose, I agree. Working with others, we developed the “Give Moose a Brake” program following the severe winter of 1989/90, to make drivers more aware of the dangers involved in moose/vehicles collisions.

When I worked for ADF&G, I spent untold hours thinking about and discussing with colleagues ways to reduce road kills, and there are no “quick-fix” solutions. We considered the merits of reducing speed limits, road conditions and every other variable imaginable and the only common denominator was drivers must be vigilant.

We experimented with several methods that worked on whitetail deer such as “deer whistles”, noise and flashing lights but none proved reliable for moose. However, there were three methods that did produce favorable results. The most successful method was fencing highways. In addition to being expensive, fencing disrupts migration of animals and reduces access for people. The second method involved lights along the highway to increase visibility, however, installation and maintenance would again be very expensive. The third was to clear highway right-of-ways annually, in June, to remove moose browse and increase diver visibility. Widening the road sides coupled with habitat enhancement, away from roads, to short stop migrating moose was the only practicable and affordable method we could agree on to help drivers avoid moose. Additionally, since most of the road-kills occurred within a 15 mile radius of Soldotna, those sections of highway were the only ones that needed clearing. And it will not cost 14 million dollars.

The article also left some readers with the impression that vehicle/moose accidents are the “chief cause” of moose mortality other than hunting. Here’s some additional data from surveys and studies to think about:

* If the Kenai moose population is still around 7,000 animals, approximately 4,900 (70 percent) of those would be cows and about 3,920 (80 percent) of those cows would had bred the previous fall. Assuming even a low twinning rate of 16 percent (found in Unit 15A in 2011), resulting in an annual production of 4,547 calves.

* A calf moose mortality study on the Kenai revealed black bears killed 34 percent of the radio-collared calves suggesting approximately 1,546 calves peninsula wide, wolves killed 273 (6 percent) calves and brown bears killed another 273 (6 percent).

* Calf mortalities alone by these three predators equal about 2,092 (46 percent) calves born each spring (from late May to July 15).

* Using the average of 244 moose killed per year by vehicles, 134 (55 percent) are calves. Black bears alone (in the spring) are capable of killing that many calves in less than four days.

* Another study by the Fish and Wildlife Service showed wolf predation during winter was comprised of 47 percent calves and each pack (over 20 packs documented in November 2011) averaged one kill every 4.7 days and 75 percent of their kills were moose.

* Wolves alone kill four times the number of moose killed by vehicles each year and at least twice the number of adult cows.

* Reports of black bears killing adult moose are uncommon; however, brown bears prey on both calves and adults during their non-denning period, whereas, wolves prey on moose all year long.

Wildlife/vehicles accidents are a serious issue on the peninsula that needs to be addressed in an affordable and practicable manner. However, it clearly does not control the moose population’s trend compared to other known mortality factors, habitat and severe winters. Hunters reported harvesting an average of 516 moose (95 percent-plus bulls) per year over the past decade, compared to a 30 year average of 244 moose killed by vehicles. The reason why the human population has doubled on the peninsula and the road-killed moose has remained fairly constant is because the moose population is about half its former size.

Ted Spraker is a retired ADF&G Wildlife Biologist and current Vice Chair Alaska Board of Game.

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HealthMaps
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HealthMaps 02/02/12 - 04:08 pm
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Where are the data and the studies?

I think it is important that Mr. Spraker give us the citations and dates of the studies that support his numbers and where citizens can find the original reports and the data.

Also how much will an aerial wolf killing program cost? How many would have to be killed? How many moose per wolf killed can we expect to be saved? How much will it cost per wolf?

I recall that Mr Spraker said in the Board of Game meeting in Anchorage "To me this is a very clear cut case. We can either sit, wait, and hope, or we can be proactive and try to do something for our moose population."

Is it really a clear cut case? I submit that sufficient and timely data are not there and "to do something" is not a replacement for good science supported by good data and proper analysis.

AKNATUREGUY
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AKNATUREGUY 02/02/12 - 08:03 pm
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GIVE IT A "BRAKE" TED SDPRAKER

Sorry Mr. Spraker, but you, the Palin/Parnell/Cora Campbell/Corey Rosi administrastion have no credibility with most Alaskans. You have all failed us with your political no-science cowboy wildlife management agenda to simply attempt to increase moose populations for a few residen and non-resident hunters.

You need to read George Matz's article in the Kenao Peninsula on January 20, 2012.

Modern day scientific wildlife management 101 subscribes to treating the total ecosystem as an important interconnected diversivied system. I believe this is the approach the Kenai Wildlife Refuge takes and it is the correct approach.

I agree with HealthMaps. Give us the scientific cites in accredited scientific journals/papers. Also, give us the figures on the cost of killing wolves. I am guessing you could start doing a lot of highway fencing with that money. If fencing disrupts the migration patterns of moose, so be it. Other States are using this method, along with over/under passes, apparently rather effective. Why can't Alaska?

You know, or should know, that we will most likely never again
have the moose habitat that once supported an abundant moose
population here on thre Kenai Peninsula. You also know the reasons for this, or you should.

If you were serious about increasing the moose population in a human and scientific manner, you be recommending options other than aerial gunning of wolves. Start by working with DOT on constructing some fences in the most vulnerable areas. Afer all, you said most moose killed on the highways, are done so within 17 miles of Soldotna.

If you and big game hunters from within Alaska and outside Alaska, feel the need to increase the moose population, start by taxing yourselves. Add a "Highway fencing fee" of $500 - $1,000 to each resident moose tag and $5,000 - $10,000 to each non-resident tag.

Work with the legislature to significantly reduce speed limits during the darness of winter. Your "Give Moose a Brake" program has probably had little if any benifical effect on the moose population.

Don't leave such a terrible no science wildlife legaceny for our grand children.

Stephen Stringham PhD
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Stephen Stringham PhD 03/10/12 - 03:14 am
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Moose vital statistics

My compliments to Mr. Spraker for providing additional data on moose mortality rates. As Dr. Hoskins indicates, the public would be best served if Mr. Spraker provides citations for the sources of these figures.

A few years ago, when Governor Palin invested $400,000 in "educating" the public about the need for Intensive Management (otherwise known as Alaska's Predator Holocaust), Mr. Spraker provided numerous statewide figures. Those were attributed to the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game (ADF&G) although specific citations were not provided.

This is NOT to criticize Mr. Spraker for omitting citations, given that print space is limited and many people would not bother reading the original reports, much less critiquing them for accuracy and completeness. However, in cases like this were citations are requested, they should be provided.

I also commend Mr. Spraker for contrasting moose mortalities due to vehicle collisions versus predation, thus adding additional insight above and beyond that provided by Dr. Morton -- although I see no basis for Mr. Spraker's claim that Dr. Morton was touting collisions as the primary source of moose mortality.

One reason that the Intensive Management is so controversial is that neither the Board of Game nor ADF&G has publicized all the pieces of the predator-prey puzzle so that the public could see the whole picture -- as would be expected in a scientific presentation before professionally (not personally) skeptical peers. Instead, they present only those pieces of the puzzle that support Intensive Management, none that throw doubt on the efficacy of IM. This is not objective science, but advocacy science -- designed not to inform, but to persuade, verging on propaganda.

Alaska was once renown for the quality of its wildlife research and management. Under our last three governors, however, objective science has been squelched in favor of advocacy science for political ends. That benefits special interests and politicians far more than it benefits moose or those of us who enjoy hunting and eating moose.

It's time for politicians to take their hands off the reins of Alaska's wildlife scientists and let them speak freely about their findings and opinions. It's time for ADF&G and the BOG to reveal all the pieces of the predator-prey puzzle so that the public can draw its own conclusions. It's time for ADF&G and the BOG to hold a conference featuring not only its own biologists, but those from other organizations inside and outside Alaska with expertise on these issues, plus a panel of sport hunters / guides with extensive knowledge.

If the majority of experts agree that the bulk of evidence indicates that Intensive Management is necessary to save the Peninsula moose population, I can live with that, despite my utter distaste for treating wolves and bears like vermin. However, if the experts conclude that the bulk of evidence indicates that Intensive Management would do no good, or worse more harm than good, IM should be forbidden.

Reaching consensus on the interpretation of data would not end all controversy. For Alaskans have a wide diversity of values. Some eat meat, some don't. Some meat eaters like myself prefer moose over livestock; others don't. Some of us are fascinated by wolves and bears; others hate them. Yet, no matter how we feel about IM, we all have a right to know whether and how well it is likely to work BEFORE it is implemented. If it won't work it should not occur.

One thing that many Alaskans have in common is a distaste for being bullied by BIG Brother, whether BIG is located in DC or anywhere else, even Juneau. If the BOG doesn't want to be perceived as yet another bully -- BOG Brother, if you will -- its time to switch back from advocacy to objectivity.

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