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To Anchorage Hillside Moose, Hunters are Just Another Predator
Craig Medred / Outdoors / Anchorage Daily News / November 6, 2005

Powerline Pass -- The broad valley that backs up against the ever-popular Glen Alps entrance to Chugach State Park is freezing up fast.

The first snows of the year have been packed into the trails by hikers, dog walkers and others. Some cross-country skiers on rock skis have been out, too, and photographers are stalking the huge bull moose that use the upper valley during and after the rut.

A supposedly controversial moose hunt has proceeded at the same time, almost unnoticed.

At last check, Chugach Park chief ranger Mike Goodwin reported two moose killed and two complaints registered.

The complaints came from people concerned that a grizzly bear seen frequenting the area had been lured there by a gut pile from one of the hunter-killed moose.

As it turned out, the bear had made its own kill and was feeding on that gut pile -- not cleaning up the viscera of a moose killed by one of four hunters lucky enough to draw permits to hunt the Anchorage Hillside.

Death is a constant throughout the wilds of Alaska. Only in the cities do we think of it as somehow foreign. Only in the cities do people get themselves all in a tizzy that in the age-old struggle between predator and prey, man might play the role of hunter.

Never mind that humans have been predators in Alaska since time immemorial. Forget that for most of Alaska history, there was no choice. Back in the day, journeying to the supermarket was not a survival option.

When freeze-up put the roots and tubers out of reach for the year and snow hid the last of the berries, there were only the dried salmon from summer and what a hunter could kill to tide a family over until the greening of the spring and the return of the birds and fish.

Where we went from this elemental view of the world to the idea that moose are our friend Bullwinkle is unclear, but obviously it happened for some.

For more than 20 years the Bullwinkle fans squelched an Anchorage Hillside moose hunt because someone had to witness the horrible sight of a moose with an arrow in its rump.

Don't get me wrong. I'd be the first to argue hunters have a responsibility to kill their quarry as quickly and as humanely as possible.

But if you've ever witnessed the carnage of a moose being killed by wolves or bears, the arrow is nothing.

"Bears don't kill," biologist John Hechtel once observed. "They eat."

Once they get their prey down, they start to devour it. They really don't care if it is dead. They make the misplaced arrows of the most bumbling of hunters appear almost humane.

Still, those misplaced arrows of old became such a public relations nightmare that for years archery organizations ran from the idea of another Hillside moose hunt. When the hunt was finally resurrected this year, the hunters taking the field were toting shotguns or black-powder rifles.

Short-range weapons, these firearms are routinely used to hunt white-tailed deer in densely populated areas all over the Lower 48, but still there were some who claimed to be objecting on grounds of public safety.

One can only wonder what Anchorage they live in.

"Given the number of gunshots you hear in neighborhoods around town all the time," noted area wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott, a couple of rounds fired by state-certified hunters on the Hillside wouldn't seem to be much concern.

The two hunters who have used their weapons so far have placed their carefully aimed bullets into the bodies of moose. This would seem far safer than the "gangstas" who can't shoot straight spraying gunfire around the Dimond Center.

If you want to worry about getting hit by a stray bullet, worry when shopping, not hiking. But then, the real risks are so small either way there's probably not much sense worrying at all.

According to data from the National Safety Council, firearms are involved in 0.8 percent of accidental deaths in the United States. When you consider that the person a hunter is most likely to shoot accidentally is himself or herself, or a buddy, the risks for the general public get tiny.

Air transport, one of the safest forms of travel, is at an identical 0.8 percent with accidental shootings.

Heat and cold, hyperthermia or hypothermia, kill more -- 1 percent, according to the data.

Drownings are at 4 percent. Falls account for 14 percent. And, of course, motor vehicles kill 44 percent.

As has been observed many times before, the greatest danger in Alaska, as elsewhere, is driving to where your adventure begins, no matter what that adventure might be.

Given all of this, there really is no good reason not to have Hillside moose hunt. And there are at least two good reasons to have one, other than mooses' tasty flesh.

* Overtaxed range. Biologists agree that the slopes above us are home to more moose than can survive on the limited winter range left in this rapidly expanding city. When we get a deep-snow winter, we're going to have a bunch of moose forced down into the city to begin the slow process of starving to death. Spotting a moose with a arrow in its butt is nothing compared to watching one spend weeks dying in your yard and then figuring out how to remove the carcass before the neighborhood dogs start making a mess of it or a bear shows up.

* Death by vehicle. We kill moose at the rate of about 150 per year with motor vehicles on Anchorage streets. These accidents kill and injure people, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and waste moose meat. The carnage by car should worsen, given that a fair number of new idiots climb behind the wheel each year.

Yes, I know, killing two moose or even four moose on the Hillside this year won't affect the motor vehicle accident rate much, if at all. But it is guaranteed that none of the moose shot by hunters will smash a car.

And if we kill 10 moose next year, and 10 more each year for a few years, the moose population could be reduced to a size commensurate with what the winter range will support. A smaller moose population should lower the motor-vehicle accident rate and reduce the prospect of what could become a big, ugly winter die-off on the streets of Anchorage.

If we can solve these problems almost unnoticed -- with hunters playing the role of predator in the natural cycle of life -- it's hard to see why there should be any controversy about this moose hunt at all.

Bullwinkle isn't real; he's a cartoon character.

Daily News Outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at cmedred@adn.com.

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