Moose encounters increase as days grow colder, darker

Posted: Tuesday, November 06, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Kitty Hoch's 8 year old son, Andrew, had just walked up to the front porch of a house to deliver a newspaper one morning last week when she saw the moose that was bedded down in the yard stand up only about 10 feet away from the boy.

''We didn't even see it. It was a dark yard. There was no porch light and none of the other houses' lights were on,'' Hoch told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''When I saw it stand up I jumped out of the car and told him to stay right there and not to move.''

Andrew, meanwhile, didn't know what to think.

''I've never been that close to a moose,'' he said. ''I think I was scared.''

What followed for mother and son was a tense standoff that lasted a few moments before the moose turned around to munch on a tree in the yard. That's when Hoch told Andrew to walk slowly down the porch and return to the car.

While the encounter turned out to be nothing more than an adrenalin rush, that's not always the case.

Last week in Anchorage, two young trick-or-treaters were run over by a moose that was bedded down in the yard they walked into, though neither was hurt seriously.

With the days getting darker and more ski and foot traffic on wooded trails as a result of the snow, wildlife experts say local residents need to keep an eye out for moose. Urban Fairbanks has a healthy moose population and this is the time of year moose move around in search of food, especially with only 6 inches of snow on the ground.

''Fairbanks was built right in middle of some great moose habitat and there are no natural predators in the borough so they do pretty well,'' said biologist Cathie Harms at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks. Just last week, a moose stomped her neighbor's dog, Harms said.

This time of year is particularly bad because it's dark when people go to work in the morning and it's dark when they come home. Those are the two times moose are most active.

''Ninety percent of it is darkness,'' Harms said. ''People don't see them in advance and can be surprised. You're walking along, you look up and there's a moose.''

It doesn't matter if you live in more remote residential areas such as North Pole, Goldstream Valley, Ester, Fox or Two Rivers, or if you live on Fifth Ave. in downtown Fairbanks -- your chances of encountering a moose are fairly high.

''There are moose in just about everyone's neighborhood in Fairbanks now,'' said Fish and Game biologist Pat Valkenburg. ''Some of these moose are really habituated to people and don't get too upset over people being close to them, but others aren't so tolerant.''

Officials at the University of Alaska Fairbanks issued its annual ''moose alert'' last week in response to several calls about moose on campus. Every year at about this time moose wander onto campus where they pose a safety hazard, said UAF police chief Terry Vrabec.

''We've had several incidents in the last couple weeks where we've got calls about moose in core areas where there potentially could be a lot of people,'' he said.

UAF police had to escort a cow and her two calves off campus early one morning last week. The animals were nibbling on trees in the commons area outside Constitution Hall at 6:30 a.m.

''That's not a good area for a moose to be in,'' Vrabec said, referring to the number of students who pass through the area en route to class. ''It's not that the moose are doing anything wrong, they're just in the wrong spot. We'd hate to have a situation where someone gets hurt.''

It was six years ago that a moose stomped a man to death on campus at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The potential for the same kind of tragic situation exists at UAF, Vrabec said.

''We could have that easily here,'' he said. ''We've been fortunate not to have any animals or people hurt.''

As a result of her son's close moose encounter, Hoch said she and Andrew now keep a sharper eye out for moose when delivering the paper.

''We open our eyes more,'' she said. ''I check the shadows of the yards now and look around pretty carefully before he gets out of the car.

''It's the kind of thing where you get complacent about it until it happens to you,'' Hoch said.

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