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Special Hillside Moose Hunt in Anchorage Triggers Mixed Emotions

McGrath: David Haeg will appeal, forfeits license

Doug O'Hara / Anchorage Daily News / October 1, 2005

Four specially certified hunters may get a shot at killing a moose this fall in a popular hiking, biking and skiing area of Chugach State Park, marking the first hunt next to the suburban Hillside in more than 20 years.

The idea of a moose harvest in the upper Campbell Creek drainage has been controversial since a 1983 bow hunt generated TV coverage of a moose with an arrow in its rump and another gutted in someone's driveway. Opponents have argued against any new big-game hunt in the city's favorite alpine playground.

But the Alaska Board of Game last March approved a closely regulated hunt using shotguns or black-powder rifles, and four Alaskans drew permits to kill and clean one cow or antlerless bull between Oct. 20 and Nov. 20.

Two of the hunters have passed a required weapons proficiency test administered by state wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott. The remaining two will be tested in the next few weeks.

Limited to weekdays late in the fall when fewer people play in the mountains, the hunt requires participants to phone state biologists before and after going into the field. They must drag viscera 100 yards away from any trail and provide the exact location to the state.

"We will go check after the fact," Sinnott said. "We really don't want to have a bear on one of those."

One of the hunters, longtime Anchorage resident David Fountain, said he appreciates the chance to harvest food close to home and intends to dispatch his moose swiftly with a single clean shot from a new .50-caliber black-powder rifle.

"I love hunting, and I love the outdoors, and I love eating the meat," said the 51-year-old Fountain, who moves mail for the U.S. Postal Service. "To me, this hunt helps the population. It equalizes it, so it's good for the environment, and it's good to show that there are responsible hunters out there."

If it succeeds as planned, the hunt could eventually be expanded to reduce the number of moose that now starve to death in parks or get killed on city streets, Sinnott said. "Rather than mangling our cars and having to deal with dead moose, it would seem like a good idea to shoot a few of them and put them in freezers."

"Because it's so controversial, we wanted to get back into the Hillside hunt with a very careful, highly monitored way," said Matt Robus, director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation. "We're starting at a very low level to try to show that this can work in a suburban and even urban environment. Over time, we will ramp it up until it's more than an insignificant number of moose and will start being a factor in controlling moose populations."

But several critics of the original proposal say they still dislike the idea, and think the department should be looking into different solutions.

"Killing four cow moose in one of the most popular wildlife viewing sites in Chugach State Park is not going to reduce moose-human conflicts in Anchorage," said Karen Deatherage, Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife, in an e-mail message. "Cooperation between various land managers and citizens, along with good city planning, will."

Biologists and land managers should form a moose committee to work out a strategy for the whole town before resorting to killing animals, she said. Any urban moose hunt ought to be a last resort, like predator control.

The state park's citizens advisory board opposes a hunt in a place so popular for recreation, said chairwoman Jenifer Kohout. "We didn't think that biologically it made any sense, given that only four animals were going to be taken, and we didn't like the idea of sort of getting a foot in the door."

Over the summer, Sinnott met with the group to address concerns and listen to suggestions, Kohout said. They asked for notices to be posted and other restrictions.

Even so, "our fundamental objection still stands," she said. "It's not a good idea."

Park officials have given permission for the discharge of firearms and have been working with Fish and Game on the details, said acting superintendent and chief ranger Mike Goodwin.

"We generally just don't have a problem with this," he said. "It's going to be relatively short-range shooting. It's more of a harvest than a hunt."

What to do about the burgeoning moose population has long been one of the city's most intractable wildlife issues, a problem that also lurks along roadsides in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Kenai Peninsula. Millions of dollars have been spent on fencing, lighting, studies and other solutions.

More than 1,000 moose roamed Anchorage neighborhoods last winter, drawn into town by easy walking and lack of natural predators. Possibly a record, the number far outstrips the available winter food, Sinnott said. The cranky animals eat up trees, charge and sometimes kick trail users and schoolchildren.

But it's the specter of a half-ton animal dashing into traffic that rattles every Alaska motorist.

A moose gets creamed somewhere in town every couple days. Last season, at least 150 moose were knocked down and killed inside Anchorage, according to the Alaska State Troopers. Another 28 have been killed since July.

"When we have a harsh or normal winter, a quarter of moose die from starvation and car collisions," Sinnott said. "Our predators are motor vehicles. That's what Anchorage has substituted for wolves and bears."

While outlying areas of the municipality hold moose hunts, only 50 to 90 animals get killed per year, not enough to impact the population. Sinnott has long argued that a hunt closer to the populated Bowl would be the better way to reduce the populations.

Holding the small hunt this year is a first step to prove it could work, he said.

Another idea was floated by the Alaska Moose Federation. Last year, the group successfully pushed for a state law that would allow a private group to transplant problem moose, particularly animals that frequent school playgrounds or endanger children.

Federation founder Gary Olson last month completed a detailed plan outlining how the program would work and has been working with the department to get approval.

While the federation isn't opposed to a Hillside cow hunt, Olson said, why not try moving animals to places in the state with depleted moose populations?

"I'm glad that the problem is heading toward being solved," he said. "First and foremost, this is a public safety concern. The price is too high to pay if you just sit back and have meetings."

Daily News reporter Doug O'Harra can be reached at do'harra@adn.com.

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