Officials at Denali National Park ruled Tuesday that a visitor was justified in shooting a moose last week that had charged him and his family.
Park spokeswoman Kris Fister identified the shooter as Robert Sirvid, 26, of Eagle River. Because rangers determined the Thursday evening shooting was justified, Sirvid won't be prosecuted for discharging a weapon in the national park or killing wildlife, normally two violations.
In 2010, Congress permitted visitors to carry firearms in national parks under the laws of the state containing the park, and Alaska law allows such a shooting in defense of life.
Sirvid appears to be a new Alaska resident. According to public records, no one by that name has ever applied for a permanent fund dividend, obtained a license to fish or hunt, or registered to vote in Alaska. He couldn't be located for comment.
Fister said Sirvid's weapon was a .41-caliber, single-action revolver, a powerful handgun. He told rangers he fired one shot at the head of the moose at close range, gravely wounding her. The moose was finished off by rangers. The shooting took place on a popular trail near the park's entrance and visitor center.
Sirvid "did not take the shooting lightly," Fister said. "He felt he had no other recourse. From my understanding, he was pretty shook up about it." He told rangers he shot the moose out of fear for the two children with him, ages 5 and 7.
Meanwhile, concern grew over two calves that might have been orphaned in the shooting and for whom time may be running out.
Though the dead moose had been lactating, rangers at first saw no sign of a calf. But others, like seasonal employee Roy Catalano of Colorado Springs, Colo., insisted they had seen two calves. In an interview, Catalano, a trail guide for a park contractor in his sixth summer at Denali, said he photographed the calves Monday night on his smart phone.
"It appeared they were waiting around for the moose cow to return," Catalano said. "Where the moose cow was killed, there's a patch of depressed earth and a lot of hair that was torn off, and the moose calves are still in the same area, within 30 to 40 feet. The behavior of these calves is, they're going to stick with the mother. They don't know how to forage for themselves or defend themselves."
After hearing from Catalano and other witnesses, including people who saw motherless calves again Tuesday, Fister said park officials now believe it more likely than not that the cow left two orphans. The park will assign wildlife technicians to watch for the calves on the trail and has made arrangements with the Alaska Moose Federation to raise the orphans at its Willow facility if they are located and captured.
Dealing with orphaned moose from a mother killed by gunshots is "unprecedented" in the 96-year-old park, Fister said. The normal policy in a national park is "to let nature take its course." The almost certain outcome for month-old moose calves on their own: a few good meals for wolves or a bear.
But there was nothing natural in this mother's death, and attracting predators to one of the most visited areas of the park could be asking for more visitor-wildlife confrontations or major trail closures, Fister said.
The only previous intervention with a wild park animal that anyone could recall was when a wolf showed up a few years ago with a snare stuck around its neck, probably from escaping a trap outside the park. Rather then let the animal live out its life in misery, rangers darted it and removed the snare. The wolf went on to mate and raise a den of pups, Fister said.
The park considered two options for a moose-calf rescue: the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Portage, a rescue and educational center that doubles as a tourist attraction, and the Moose Federation, a nonprofit with limited success raising and releasing moose and occasionally mocked for "moose farming." The park chose the federation, in part because it would release the orphans back into the wild if they survive, Fister said.
Gary Olson, head of the federation, said he has agreed to take custody of the calves and to raise them at his facility in Willow. He said he would release them in late summer, as he has done with the handful of other calves the federation has raised over the last two years.
Olson said the federation practices "hands-off" rearing, minimal human-animal contact to reduce the likelihood that the moose would bond with its handler and develop no fear of people. Tourists are not welcome at the Willow facility, Olson said.
More animals to hunt would be one positive outcome of rearing moose calves, Olson said, but so would their natural death by predators or living successfully to reproduce in the wild.
The federation takes its instructions from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and will relocate animals where it's told, most likely in the area in which they were orphaned, Olson said. In 2011 and 2012, the federation raised and released five calves, three of which survived their first winter, he said.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER