Effort mounts to keep moose safe from cars

Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Only halfway through the reporting year, the number of moose killed on Kenai Peninsula roads since July 1 is already at the five-year annual average, but plans by the Alaska Moose Federation may soon change the unfortunate result of beast and machine competing for the same travel corridors.

The federation, a group of about 350 Alaskans concerned about maintaining a healthy moose population, is pushing efforts to build diversionary trails on the snow to lead moose away from railroad tracks and roads toward habitat and feeding areas.

In its longer term goals, the group would like to see fences erected along roads in particularly heavily traveled moose corridors and install underpasses beneath highways where moose frequently are hit and killed by motor vehicles.

"We're in nothing short of a state of emergency there on the Kenai Peninsula, when you've got 230 moose killed," said AMF Chair Gary Olson. Olson is based in Anchorage.

"We're going to be talking to the Department of Fish and Game in Juneau next week," Olson said Friday.

"I think it's going to be done, but ultimately it's up to them," he said, of the diversionary trail project.

"What we will be doing first is obtaining access rights from landowners to allow us to bring in the kind of equipment we need to build the trails," he said.

"On the Kenai Peninsula, that means a lot of federal land, mostly on the (Kenai) National Wildlife Refuge."

The moose federation already has contacted the Army National Guard, he said, to arrange the loan of Haglund Susvees small, powered tracked vehicles that get up on top of the snow alongside railroad tracks and highways and create an alternate route leading the moose off into browse areas.

"By building these trails up four feet high, they also put the moose four feet higher up once they get to the browse, opening up a whole new area of birch and alder trees for them to eat," Olson said.

"If we only concentrate on the roads, though, we would actually draw moose to the roads where travel is easier, so we need to build the tracks away from the roads into good habitat, providing a better likelihood that they would keep away from the roads," Olson said.

Asked where efforts would be focused on the peninsula, Olson said Kalifornsky Beach Road has some serious moose corridors, as does the Sterling Highway through Sterling and in the Homer area.

"Fish and Game is already studying these areas at the request of the federation," Olson said.

According to the Department of Fish and Game office in Soldotna, so far this year, 230 moose have been killed on peninsula roads.

The department starts its count on July 1 and continues through June 30.

"In the last five years, from '98-'99 to 2002-03, 1,164 moose were killed on the peninsula," said Larry Lewis, wildlife technician.

"That's an average of 232 per year. We're there now."

Olson acknowledged that in a time of tight budgets in the state, funding is not readily available, but he said that by being a tax-exempt, 501-C nonprofit organization under Internal Revenue Service guidelines, the federation can receive donations from private contractors seeking a tax write-off.

"Especially now, in the dead of winter when contractors have road equipment sitting idle, they can donate it for our use and receive a tax deduction," he said.

"Right now it's important for us to get the access rights in place so we won't be chasing the moose roadkill problem next year when it's already happening," Olson said.

He said he hopes to have the access permission from federal agencies, Native corporations and private landowners in place by the end of January.

"Every day we wait with all this snow cover, the moose are burning up more body fat. The sooner we get started, the better, before moose go into a starvation mode," he said.

Looking to the future, Olson said he will seek funds for fencing and underpasses through moose migration corridors from the federal government.

To be effective, moose fences need to be 8 feet tall, according to Olson, who referred to steel fencing the state installed along Ship Creek between Eagle River and Anchorage.

"They fenced in 10 to 12 miles and put in one underpass and that has been adequate," he said.

Steel fencing costs $9.63 per linear foot, according to Olson, but said a less expensive, nylon mesh fencing material could be used at a cost of about one-tenth as much.

He said the federation also has begun grant writing to in-state and out-of-state philanthropic organizations for help and said the group will put spare-change collection boxes at check-out stands in stores throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Former Gov. Jay Hammond has lent his name and photo to the group for use on the boxes, endorsing the federation's efforts to increase moose numbers in Alaska.

According to the moose federation Web site, more than 600 moose are killed in Alaska cities by vehicles every year.

"At an average $15,000 per accident, that is an ... annual loss of over $9 million to Alaskans in vehicle damage alone," the site states.

Also, because a moose cow on average will give birth to 19 calves in its 14-year breeding span, and female offspring will give birth to an additional 184 calves in 14 years, the total production from one cow and her female offspring is 203 calves over 14 years.

Half of those moose are bulls that could be harvested, according to the federation.

"The problems are solvable," Olson said.

"What we need now is to whip up the attention of the public. This has got to be done."

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