Feeding an Alaska moose is normally taboo, but state wildlife officials will make an exception this year because of extraordinary circumstances -- deep snow.
The Department of Fish and Game announced Monday that a permit has been issued to the Alaska Moose Federation allowing the advocacy group to take measures in Southcentral Alaska that will divert moose from roads, driveways and railroad lines, which moose seek out in heavy snow years. The measures include feeding stations and, perhaps as important, trails that moose can use to move to natural feeding areas.
Tony Kavalok, assistant director of the Wildlife Conservation Division, said public safety drove the decision.
"We hope the diversionary feeding stations will lure moose away from roads and will reduce moose-vehicle collisions and other dangerous encounters," he said in the announcement.
Kavalok estimates that more than 600 moose have been killed by cars, trucks and trains so far this winter in the Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska-Susitna boroughs, where the tactics will be applied. He didn't have an exact count, but the Mat-Su Borough a few weeks ago had listed the moose kill at 315.
"All I can tell you is that we're way above normal," he said by phone.
Snow has accumulated to more than 4 feet deep in some places, making snowshoes a necessity for humans leaving a trail. It's not just the quantity of the snow that's the problem, Kavalok said. The quality also can be an issue if moose are breaking through crust.
"It makes it very difficult to move around," he said.
Moose punching through the snow burn more calories.
"They end up spending a lot more energy, which they need to overwinter," he said. Their long legs serve them well until the snow gets higher than 34 to 40 inches, he said.
Moose gravitate to plowed areas to conserve energy, putting them and drivers in harm's way.
Alaska Moose Federation Director Gary Olson said his group has state grants to expand moose-kill salvage programs and to relocate moose from high-contact areas, but neither will be used for the diversion effort. The group will instead rely on donations and this week received the first installment of a $50,000 gift from Allstate Insurance Co.
"That's a good start," Olson said. "We're going to be requesting assistance from state agencies, from the railroad, and other partners," he said.
An elementary school called to say it wanted to raise money for haylage. One 4-foot-wide bale from a local farmer will cost the federation $50.
"Now that we have this permit, we can actually start picking up partners as fast as we can to offset this damage that's well under way," Olson said.
The moose federation will identify areas with high moose concentrations and try to lure moose to natural feeding areas by setting trails away from roads, Kavalok said. Part of the attraction will be bales of silage or "haylage," a crop that carries some nutritional value for moose. The federation may also seek permits to cut down trees and other natural vegetation that will divert moose from roads.
According to the permit, trails should be oriented to be parallel to nearby roads or railways. The moose federation will need permission from landowners before creating trails or diversionary feeding. Trails will have to be at least a quarter-mile from public roads or railroads.
The alternate travel routes will not be set up immediately, Kavalok said.
"It will be a process," he said. "It might take a couple or three weeks."
It will remain a misdemeanor for people to feed moose if they don't have a permit. Kavalok said feeding moose is dangerous to people, as well as their neighbors.
Moose can turn aggressive and demanding to protect a food supply. They can also eat the wrong things. What people might believe is moose food may not be digestible for the ungulates, leading to serious health problems, he said.