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Recent shootings, more visitors stir debate over Kincaid moose

Michelle Theriault Boots
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News A bull moose browses on a hill at Kincaid Park on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013.
Bill Roth
Melissa Howell used a leash to walk her puppy Elsa along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail near the Kincaid Park Chalet on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013.
Bill Roth
Ryan Myers photographs a bull moose browsing near the road at Kincaid Park on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013.
Bill Roth
A bull moose reacts to the presence of a loose dog at Kincaid Park on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013.
Photo courtesy Charlene Rector

Almost anyone who has been to Kincaid Park will tell you: This is moose country.

Moose can be found nibbling roadside grass, ambling along cross-country ski trails and sauntering across soccer fields on Kincaid's 1,500 acres. They scare people and captivate them. They cause iPhone photo traffic jams and reroute runs. They mate and give birth and die, all in one of the Anchorage's biggest and most popular parks.

Twice in the past five weeks, people have shot and killed moose inside Kincaid in the name of self-defense.

Everyone takes notice when big wild animals are killed in city parks, said city parks superintendent Holly Spoth-Torres.

It raises the same question that bad bear encounters in or near the city tend to raise, she said.

As one online commenter put it: Is Kincaid Park for people or moose?

Well, both, Spoth-Torres said.

"It's our responsibility to provide outdoor recreation for Anchorage residents," she said. "But at the same time it is our job to protect natural resources."

It's hardly a new issue.

People have been grappling over competing uses of public land for as long as public lands have been around, Spoth-Torres said.

'THE MOOSE CHARGED HIM STRAIGHT ON'

The first incident came on Sept. 24, when an off-duty Anchorage police officer used a shotgun pulled from his vehicle to dispatch a bull moose that had charged a pack of middle-school cross-country runners near the stadium.

The bull, which had been lying near the trail, was one of four or five moose in the area during the meet, which involved hundreds of seventh- and eighth-graders, including the police officer's daughter.

Then, on the evening of Oct. 18 a 22-year-old Anchorage resident named Justin Scott called police to report that he had shot a moose in the park.

When officers met Scott at the Kincaid chalet, he said he'd been riding his bike with his dog and had come around a bend to see a cow with two calves 25 feet off the trail to the left, according to the police report.

His dog barked and lunged forward, he told police.

"After he released his dog the moose charged him straight on," the report said. "He produced his handgun and fired six times."

Officers found the injured moose at hole five of the disc golf course, near the Mize Loop and new soccer fields, and killed it. A charity salvaged the meat.

Attempts to contact Scott for this story were not successful.

It's legal to carry a gun in a city park.

But you can't fire that gun or kill or injure an animal unless you are doing so in "defense of life and property," said Spoth-Torres. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game makes that determination.

The last time anyone can remember a moose being shot in Kincaid Park was 2004, when a skier named Mike Vogel pulled a revolver from his fanny pack and shot a moose as it trotted toward him on the coastal trail, about a mile below the Kincaid Chalet, according to a Daily News account at the time.

A year earlier a moose had charged Vogel and stomped on his face, breaking bones and temporarily blinding him.

Rick Sinnott, the Fish and Game biologist who finished off the wounded moose with a shotgun, was critical of Vogel's decision at the time.

He could have used pepper spray, Sinnott said.

Today, Vogel believes Fish and Game needs to do more to control the moose population in city parks.

"The moose have no predators and have lost their fear of humans," Vogel wrote in an email. "The result is fearless moose whose numbers exceed what they should."

He suggests opening Kincaid to a 3-day archery hunt.

MORE PEOPLE IN THE PARK

It's unclear whether there are more moose at Kincaid these days or simply more trails on which to glimpse them. Fish and Game doesn't do a park-specific moose census so there are no good numbers on the exact population.

"We don't have any data on how many moose are in Kincaid," Spoth-Torres said. "I do hear the opinion a lot that there are too many moose in Kincaid."

"The same way we don't have any real data about moose populations we also don't have any real data about the carrying capacity of our park," she said. "Do we have too many trails? Do we have enough?"

One thing is clear: There are more humans in Kincaid Park these days. And they are there to do all sorts of things.

People come to the park to ski, walk, disc golf, get married at the chalet, photograph wildlife, race motocross bikes, run in school cross-country meets and practice archery, among other activities, said Brad Cooke, the chalet manager.

New soccer fields and a network of single-track mountain biking trails have added even more users.

UNLEASHED DOGS

The abundance of moose in Kincaid is a boon to some and a vexation to others.

Jan Buron spends as much time at Kincaid as anybody.

The coach of the Alaska Winter Stars and Service High cross-country teams, Buron is on trails at least three times a week all year.

In recent years, moose have become a menace. He regularly has to re-route workouts away from congregations of the animals, particularly around the Mize Loop and stadium.

"Moose are more aggressive," he said. "It's not funny anymore, actually."

Parks are paid for by taxpayers and people should be able to safely exercise there, Buron said.

It's time to take action, he said. In his native Poland, he said, rubber bullets are used to annoy problem animals.

"You don't have to be Einstein to figure it out," he said. "They would avoid us."

To Doug Lloyd the solution is simple.

"Get all the damn unleashed dogs out of this park," said Lloyd, a wildlife photographer and Department of Corrections retiree.

Lloyd has been photographing moose in Kincaid since 1981.

On a sunny day last week, he and Rob Tappana, another wildlife photographer, were watching a bull with an impressive rack eat its way along the edge of the Lekisch Trail, near the stadium.

Tappana, who retired from the U.S. Air Force, also saw new mountain biking trails and unleashed dogs as central to what he agreed was a growing problem for Kincaid's moose.

He wasn't against bike trails, he said. But cutting a bunch of new trails destroyed some "safe zones" for moose, he said.

The animals were closer to trails and closer to people now. More people seemed to be showing up with off-leash dogs.

He said he'd seen a single moose get charged by seven different dogs the previous day.

Tappana said he also had no problem with guns but hated the idea of someone shooting a moose in the middle of a park dense with walkers and bikers.

Kincaid and its moose were too special to be ruined, he said.

"This is important, that we figure out how not to shoot two moose a month out here," he said.

He stopped talking and leaned against a birch tree. The bull was dappled in afternoon sunlight. Tappana been waiting for hours for this moose and this light to meet.

The shutter on the camera clicked.

"Oh, he's gorgeous," he said, shaking his head. "Just stunning."

 

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

 


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
mtheriault@adn.com