Don't do something with a moose that you wouldn't do with a brown bear.
That's the advice from Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and it includes feeding moose, no matter how much we want to help.
"People are generally well-meaning, but it's absolutely essential to give these animals lots of room, and respect them as the wild animals they are," Lewis said.
Lewis said the Soldotna Fish and Game office has been getting a constant stream of calls from people regarding moose. Moose are highly stressed after wading through deep snow all winter, and many are wandering into neighborhoods and around town, where they can walk on plowed roads -- the path of least resistance, as Lewis put it.
While it's human nature to want to help these creatures with an easy meal, feeding them, or approaching and petting them, is a death sentence for the animal. The animal loses its fear of people, and will approach people looking for a food reward. It can become aggressive, and when its behavior escalates, the situation becomes dangerous for both the moose and people.
It doesn't do the moose any good, and what's more, is illegal.
Lewis said he responded to a call earlier this week about aggressive moose in a yard. When he arrived, he found several young moose had been up on a porch and pushing on a front door. That's not normal moose behavior, he said, and indicated to him that someone had been feeding them.
One of the moose had ingested half of a plastic picnic table cover, something that would eventually lead to its death. Lewis determined that the animal needed to be put down, but in the process, also put down a second aggressive moose.
"Everybody's hearts go out to these animals. We hate to see them starve, but it's part of the natural process," Lewis said.
Lewis also recommended taking extra measures to make sure pets are safe -- a moose spooked by a loose dog down the road may decide to take it out on the next dog it comes across, even if that owner has the animal properly restrained.
While we're on the subject of safety around wild animals, it's a good time for a reminder that the Kenai Peninsula's bear population will be waking up soon, if some bears haven't already. Lewis said the department is getting calls about bears in the Seward area.
That means it's time to look around our yards and secure any attractants -- bird feeders, pet or livestock feed, trash, freezers -- that may draw in a hungry bear looking for an easy meal.
Because, even with the best intentions, fed wild animals become dead wild animals.
In short: Feeding wild animals creates a dangerous situation for animals and people. It doesn't help the wild animal, and it's illegal. Concerns and questions about moose or bears can be directed to Fish and Game staff in Soldotna at 907-262-9368.