State OKs group's plan to drug, relocate roadside moose

The state will pick up the tab for the private group's effort to reduce road kill.

Anchorage Daily NewsFebruary 28, 2012 

A moose feeds on ornamental foliage next to Northern Lights Boulevard earlier this year.

BOB HALLINEN / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS Buy Photo

The moose you've seen loitering by the sides of Mat-Su roads may soon be getting an all-expenses paid trip to new, more rural homes, courtesy of the Alaska Moose Federation -- and the state treasury.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Tuesday that it had authorized a private group already permitted to feed moose and raise orphaned calves to capture, drug, radio collar and transplant roadside moose to the deep woods using state grant money.

The Moose Federation will contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's wildlife service program to relocate animals in Game Management Unit 14, which includes Anchorage, the Matanuska and Susitna valleys and the Trapper Creek area.

Both the state and the Moose Federation say that the move is part of an effort to keep moose away from Mat-Su roads, where more than 400 have been hit and killed by cars since October.

The deputy director of wildlife conservation for the state said a private organization is doing the work rather than his department because the Legislature funded it that way.

"This is a case where the Moose Federation has defined the problem and the legislature has responded and said, this is a meaningful problem," said the deputy director, Dale Rabe.

The department has not proposed a move-the-moose program in the past, he said, and proposals to expand funding for "urban wildlife conflict" issues have failed.

But the Moose Federation has been successful in winning grant money from the Legislature, as well as private donations for its other activities, which include diversionary feeding, calf-raising, education and salvage programs, by framing its efforts as protecting public safety.

The money for the relocation program comes from legislative earmarks of about $1.2 million championed by Anchorage Republican Lesil McGuire and Bethel Democrat Lyman Hoffman last session, said Gary Olson, the head of the Moose Federation. McGuire and Hoffman did not return calls Tuesday.

The overall cost of setting up the relocation program, which includes equipment and the USDA subcontract will be "a little over a million dollars," Olson said. The USDA will be paid $80,000 to $100,000 for its part, he said.

The state money has largely been used for buying equipment, including trailers, trucks and a Snowcat, Olson said. He estimates his organization owns 15-20 such pieces of equipment.

"That will allow us to go for many years in the future," he said.

The Moose Federation dates back to 2002. According to its filings with the Alaska Department of Commerce, its board includes Anchorage pollster Dave Dittman and KENI radio show host Rick Rydell.

The Moose Federation may have the money, but personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Division of Wildlife Services will actually capture the animals.

The moose will be tranquilized, fitted with tracking collars, loaded into trailers and driven to sites around Southcentral Alaska. The federation's "nuisance moose permit" from the state requires the relocation site to be at least five miles from a major roadway with no more than 30 inches of snow on the ground and no open moose hunting season for at least 45 days.

The Moose Federation is required to track moose survival and report the data to Fish and Game. There is no limit on the number of moose the group can move, though initially only about 10 animals are expected to be relocated, Fish and Game said. More are expected to be relocated in subsequent years if the permit is renewed, Olson said.

The permit for moose relocation runs from Feb. 28 to March 31. Calves and adults alike can be relocated.

Rabe said his department understands that the organization, which operates under a "grow more moose" philosophy, has an additional interest beyond the welfare of wayward moose.

A goal of the group is to have a sustainable moose population in the region for hunters.

"They see it as more valuable to have that moose alive in the woods than dead on the side of the road," he said.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

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