Sitka blacktail deer spotted in Anchorage

Posted: Friday, May 09, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Sitka blacktailed deer have been venturing far from home in Prince William Sound all the way to Anchorage.

In the latest sighting, a wildlife photographer snapped one of the animals along Turnagain Arm.

Wildlife photographer and artist Doug Lindstrand was driving north on the Seward Highway just beyond the Twentymile River valley about 11 a.m. Sunday when he saw the animal by the Alaska Railroad tracks near the mountain face.

It was the first deer I'd seen (in Anchorage) in 30 years up here,'' Lindstrand said. It was exciting for me because it's what I do. I love to go see an animal out of place.''

He pulled over and watched the deer meander for about 20 minutes, nibbling on bushes. Then a bald eagle swooped by and spooked the deer into the forest, Lindstrand said.

Three other sightings were made over the winter, closer to the city. State biologist Rick Sinnott said at least one buck and one doe might have made it through winter in the relatively snowless slopes between Potter Valley and McHugh Creek.

Sinnott said Lindstrand's sighting could be another deer altogether.

Native to Southeast Alaska, the deer were introduced to Hawkins and Hinchinbrook islands in the early 1900s and dispersed throughout the sound by swimming island to island. They have been seen in bays along Passage Canal, just over the mountains from Portage and Turnagain Arm.

It's a common thing in wild populations for animals to disperse. That's how they pioneer new areas,'' Sinnott told the Anchorage Daily News. It's not unheard of for an animal to go 30 to 40 miles to another area. The interesting thing with deer is that, as far as we know, that hasn't happened before in Anchorage. They had always stayed on the Prince William Sound side.''

Over the years, an occasional deer has been reported in Twentymile and Portage areas. But never farther up the arm toward town.

The deer browse the undergrowth of the sound's rain forests and along beaches but aren't as common on the mainland. Deep snow leaves them vulnerable to predators and buries the high-quality food they need to stay healthy.

But after last fall's regional snow drought, physician John Erkmann spotted a buck bounding across Potter Valley Road in December. It was the first known sighting of a deer in the city itself.

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