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Wildlife Group's Moose-Moving Plan Denied

STATE: Proposal to ship calves to wilderness found lacking in details

Alex deMarban / Anchorage Daily News / July 13, 2007

 

The state has rejected the latest plan by a wildlife conservation group to send urban moose to a rural Alaska area where their numbers are low.

The Alaska Moose Federation had hoped to pick up at least 20 calves orphaned mostly by car collisions in Southcentral Alaska, rear them at a "natural setting" in Anchorage and boat them up rivers to wilderness around Skwentna.

But the state denied the plan last month. Like past submissions from the federation, it lacks detailed information required by law, including about holding pens, project financing and who specifically would handle the moose, Matt Robus, director of the state's wildlife conservation division, said in a letter to the group.

"You have not clearly demonstrated the AMF possesses the expertise, facilities and wherewithal to safely and successfully fulfill your plans," Robus wrote.

Also, putting naive, human-raised moose in the Skwentna area might just feed and help boost numbers of bears and wolves the state is trying to reduce, he said.

The Anchorage-based federation, which wants to increase moose populations in part to feed rural families, won't submit any more proposals until Robus retires this summer, said Gary Olson, chairman.

"He doesn't see its merits, so it's a moot point," Olson said.

A NEED FOR MOOSE

Moose numbers have fallen sharply around Skwentna, from around 2,600 in 1990 to about 900, and Southcentral has the orphaned calves to help, Olson said.

According to state Department of Transportation figures and his own estimates, vehicle-moose collisions in the Mat-Su Borough leave at least 10 orphaned calves a summer that will likely die, Olson said. Throw in Anchorage and Kenai Peninsula moose crashes and there's easily 20 calves that could go to the Bush, he said.

Robus said predators, especially black bears, are the reason moose numbers have dropped sharply around Skwentna. That's why the Board of Game decided this year to let hunters kill unlimited numbers of black bears there, he said.

Robus, who retires in August, said he has no beef with the moose group.

"I just happen to be at the head of the division so my name is on everything that goes back to them," he said.

The department annually awards about 100 permits letting people handle wild animals, but most are usually simple, such as researchers hoping to draw blood, Robus said. The moose federation's request is the most ambitious, because it requires long-term care, transport and follow-up.

The proposal, a modifed version which the group hopes to submit in August, calls for orphaned moose to be treated by veterinarians in Anchorage and possibly in Kenai or the Mat-Su area. The handlers would work under Del Seeba, an Anchorage veterinarian and a federation adviser. The Alaska Zoo offered to help.

The moose would be transferred to holding pens one acre or larger, in a forested area near Huffman Road and the Seward Highway. Trainers would raise the calves, bottle-feeding the smallest ones with formula until they could drink from pails or forage.

In August -- when bears are eating salmon and berries, Olson notes -- calves would be trucked in trailers to the Deshka Landing, placed in crates and boated up the Yentna River for release around Skwentna.

There are hundreds of square miles of good moose habitat, Olson said. On snowy winters when moose browse is hard to find and travel difficult, the group would work with state biologists to create trails and fell trees.

Olson agrees black bears could be a problem. But they wouldn't kill all the transplanted calves, he said.

"Fifty percent survival of those calves there is better than zero percent here," he said.

A RESCUE GONE AWRY

Alaska wildlife troopers are investigating the group for handling an orphaned moose in May without a permit. Robus asked troopers to investigate.

Olson and federation advisers said they tried to rescue the calf, and transported it from the Anchorage Hillside to Seeba's clinic and to the zoo for treatment. The zoo euthanized the calf.

It was near death when injected. That's in part because it was so stuffed with formula, possibly during tube-feeding, that milk flowed into the lungs, causing pneumonia, according to Robus and a Fish and Game necropsy.

Robus said he doesn't know who overfed the calf, since several people handled the animal. But the death illustrates how easily things go wrong, and why handling requirements are strict.

Olson wouldn't discuss the calf.

"Until the investigation is over we don't want to say anything about that," Olson said.

Find Alex deMarban online at adn.com/contact/ademarban or call 257-4310.

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