Winter hasn't loosened grip for Alaska moose

Anchorage, Alaska (AP) – It's been a tough year for moose in the Anchorage area.

Record snow has fallen this year, driving more moose down from the mountain valleys into flat, wintering areas, or the most populated parts of Alaska.

"Every time we have deep snow, we tend to have more moose in town,'' said Jessy Coltrane, the Anchorage area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game .

And while many parts of the continental United States have already been experiencing warm temperatures this spring, it's only now starting to warm up in Alaska. Still unmelted are large snow piles, which have been the bane for moose this year.

"Winters are normally hard for ungulates but this year with how deep the snow is and how cold it's been, they have had difficulty getting around,'' said Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters. “When they finally find a place that's flat, that they can easily walk through, then tend to stick there and have easy access to the food.''

And that usually means roadways and city trails.

The moose count for the Municipality of Anchorage is about 1,500. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough, just north of Anchorage, has about 8,000 moose, the highest count ever, said Tony Kavalok, the assistant director for the Fish and Game's Division of Wildlife Conservation

While there won't be a total on the number of moose-car collisions in Anchorage until the end of the season (typically, about 155 moose are killed in accidents), it's been a record-breaking year in the Mat-Su Borough.

Already this year, there's been 455 moose killed in the borough, Kavalok said, topping the previous record of 387 kills in 2003-04.

The Alaska Moose Federation also received a permit from the state to set up hay feeding stations to keep moose away from roads and rail lines.

Wildlife officials said some of the feeding stations were used, but it's difficult to quantify how successful the program was.

Trudging through deep snow, and then protecting a food site have made moose highly agitated this year.

"They're tired, they're hungry, they're cranky,'' said Peters. "It doesn't take much for them to decide to stand their ground and protect the areas where they're comfortable.''

On the same day last month, two women living 50 miles apart in the Mat-Su Borough were attacked by moose as they walked children to bus stops. Both women protected their children to varying degrees of injuries.

But it was reports like that prompted Peters – a jogger – to change her habits.

"I've avoided the trails because of the moose,'' she said. "I got a gym membership this year.''

Coltrane says she doesn't see the human-moose encounters as being any worse this year than any other.

"People in Anchorage are also very complacent about moose, unfortunately,'' she said. "They will get too close to moose, they won't give moose enough space.''

Moose are irritated, and especially by early spring want to conserve energy.

"They don't want to move, and will charge people,'' she said.

Another problem is created when people feel sorry for moose and feed them.

Coltrane called that irresponsible behavior and dangerous to the moose.

"We had to put down at least one moose this year that became aggressive because it had been fed repeatedly by hand or through negligence and bad garbage tending practices by residents,'' she said.

Another bad idea is petting a moose. A video of a woman doing that in Anchorage this spring was popular on YouTube, but wildlife officials said it was not only dangerous but people could be fined under wildlife harassment statutes.

"It's not usually in your best interest of self-preservation to walk up and pet any wild animal,'' Coltrane said.

In heavy snow years, wildlife officials say there tends to be a lot of moose dying of starvation, but this year appears different.

"We haven't seen a whole lot of moose dropping dead in town, it doesn't seem to be higher than average,'' Coltrane said.

But she also anticipates once the snow piles start to melt, “people will realize there is a dead moose buried under that pile of snow in their yard.''

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