Tough moose conditions 'real localized'

Posted: Tuesday, February 08, 2000

According to Alaska State Troopers log sheets for the past weekend, the number of moose killed on central Kenai Peninsula roads is rising rapidly.

"Yeah, we've had a pretty grim weekend," said Capt. Joe Hard, temporary post commander for Fish and Wildlife Protection in Soldotna.

The trooper log sheets have recorded an increase in "animal complaint" calls recently. Hard said most such calls of late are the result of hungry, young moose getting in residents' way.

"There all on the roads now," said Ted Spraker, Kenai-area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Monday morning, Spraker was called out to the fenced area behind A-1 Enterprises near the corner of Wilson and Binkley in Soldotna. A little moose had found its way over a snow pile pushed up over the top of the fence.

Once inside the enclosure, however, the young animal couldn't find its way back over the fence and was left floundering in deep, crusted snow. Spraker and Fish and Wildlife Protection officers looked the situation over and decided to send a city of Soldotna loader in to shovel a path and allow the critter to escape. No one knew how the animal would react to a giant, roaring, steel monster ad-vancing on it.

"Whatever happens, it will beat the alternative (starvation)," Spraker said.

Bad as the situation is, however, all is not lost. Spraker said the tough conditions are distinctly local.

"It's real localized," he said. "The worst of it is basically close to the coast from Ninilchik to Nikiski."

Spraker said he drove up to the Skilak Loop area last weekend and was surprised to find snow depths much less than they are on the central peninsula. There was even bare ground near the bases of some trees.

Down toward Homer, he said, the snow pack on the low lands has been greatly reduced by rain and recent warm weather.

"It's warm again today and more melting is going on," Spraker said Monday.

All the thawing and refreezing recently may carry hidden benefits for young moose.

"If it (the crust) gets hard enough, the calves may be able to walk on top of it and reach an entirely new layer of food," Spraker said.

For the present, though, there are a lot of moose using the roads to get around and motorists should exercise an extra measure of caution.

"It's the same thing we always advise -- slow down and don't over-drive your headlights," Spraker said. "It's slippery out, and if you can't get stopped for a moose, you won't be able to get stopped for a car, either."

One good thing has come out of all the moose misery, Spraker said. It's proven the spike-fork regulation works, he said.

"We've had at least three hard winters since the spike-fork 50 rule went into effect 14 years ago and our bull-to-cow ratio hasn't changed."

That allows a quick recovery by a moose population impacted by a bad winter.

"If we hadn't had that regulation in place, we would probably have closed the season last year and would have to again this year.

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