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Restless bears, hungry moose

As snow piles up, peninsula wildlife looking for quick, easy meals

Posted: Friday, January 18, 2008

Snow blankets the ground, but that doesn't necessarily mean Yogi's asleep. Reports of a bear nosing around Kalifornsky Beach Road Wednesday should warn Kenai Peninsula residents that even though most bruins snooze their way through the winter, it's not unheard of to find one wide awake and hungry.

Jeff Selinger, wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish, said even though their metabolic process slows down, bears don't exactly hibernate. Noisy snowmachines, a wayward moose or an empty stomach may be enough to rouse a bear from its slumber and send it into woods, roads or backyards looking for an easy meal. Slim pickings can also send moose to bird feeders and hay barns for their supper.

"Periodically throughout the winter (people) see tracks and a trail," Selinger said. "They can get scared from their den site by snowmachine traffic. The bears that aren't in real good shape get hungry in the den and don't go into hibernation."

Hungry moose and sleepless bears are two good reasons Kenai Peninsula residents should keep their bird feeders high and garbage secured. Selinger said often, the bears folks find rummaging around the brush and trees are older bears in poor condition or youngsters newly separated from their mothers. Calls for problem bears aren't common during the winter months, but they happen.

"We got a skull of a large animal that was shot at a black bear bait site in a legal area," Selinger said. "It was a big bear and we opened its gut and it had corn in there and some tabs from milk jugs. To me it was obvious that it had been (into) garbage."

Garbage can be fatal for moose who have figured out how to nudge lids off Dumpsters. Selinger said the animals can injest the plastic bags, which can clog their digestive track. And as winter progresses and food becomes scarce, a hungry moose can become aggressive. Moose take over hay piles and barns, charge horses and other livestock as well as defend a Dumpster if it thinks it can get food from there. Winter is a time when moose also approach people begging to be fed.

"It's cute and it makes for a neat picture maybe, but it usually winds up being the demise of the moose," he said. "It'll try to do that to other people, it'll approach kids, you want to avoid that."

In order to avoid negative run-ins with moose and bears, Selinger said people should securely latch their Dumpsters and clean up the area around their bird feeders. Moose, he said, tend to travel where food is available and can start to browse ornamental plants like lilacs and apples. People with livestock should also secure their hay. He also said the best thing to do when coming into contact with a pushy moose is keep a tree between you and the moose and slowly back off. The roads are also a danger.

"So far we're not too bad, but if we get another foot of snow it will start impeding (moose's) movements," Selinger said. "Plowed roads are a lot easier to move around on than going through the woods."

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.



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