Another mysterious incident -- Alaska's version of cattle mutilation -- has prompted a resolution from a municipal advisory commission. Instead of cattle, the victims are moose. Instead of surgical incisions and organ removal, the moose are impaled on metal palisade fences.
The mystery is not how the moose die. No need to invoke unidentified flying objects or alien abductions. The mystery is why most owners of these fences aren't doing anything to fix the problem.
The moose are simply trying to jump a fence. Unfortunately, in doing so they often drag their weighty midsections across the top rail. Metal palisade fences -- the gothic-style, often wrought-iron fences with points fashioned like spear tips -- kill at least one or two moose annually in Anchorage. No one knows how many struggle free to die later.
The Anchorage Watershed and Natural Resources Advisory Commission recently passed a resolution requesting an amendment to Title 21, the municipality's land use rules, that would prohibit metal palisade fences with projecting points capable of impaling or snagging moose. The recommendation was forwarded to the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Anchorage Assembly for consideration.
Metal palisade fences are common in some communities in the Lower 48 states but relatively few have been erected in Anchorage. The number of properties using these fences is increasing, however, and moose mutilations will follow.
The fences most likely to impale moose are in residential areas, where moose jump ubiquitous fences up to 7 feet tall with familiar disregard and can jump higher fences under some conditions.
Low palisade fences also impale moose. Calves and yearling moose are particularly vulnerable. But a 4-foot-high fence can kill an adult moose as well. Sometimes a moose's hoof postholes as it steps over a fence, thrusting the points into its body cavity.
The pales or points kill moose in several ways. They can puncture the torso and vital organs, leaving the moose draped limply over the fence. This is a slow and painful way to die because the moose struggles to free itself, driving the points deeper. Some moose struggle free only to succumb from internal bleeding or a systemic infection. The points can also pierce leg muscles or snag one or both hind hooves between the pales, which leaves the moose hanging head down and dying from suffocation or bloat.
Faced with the grisly spectacle of a moose skewered on their fence, property owners typically call a Fish and Game biologist for help. The moose often is already dead. If it isn't, there is no easy way to remove a moose impaled on a fence.
Homeowners seeking help are usually contrite and vow to fix or replace the fence. However, that has happened only twice to the best of my knowledge. The palisade fence at the Boniface gate of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson impaled a moose in 2005. One of the points lodged deep in the bull's axilla, or "armpit," without penetrating the body cavity. With the help of the base's natural resources staff, the section of fence was dismantled and the bull limped away. After impaling a second moose, which subsequently died, the fence was modified as recommended by Fish and Game by removing the pales.
Other fences have caught more than one moose. The former Atwood mansion's fence impaled at least five moose. This fence has now been capped, although some abutting fences still bare lethal tips. No one else has been bothered enough about future impalements to fix their fence.
The last moose killed by a gothic fence was in Goldenview Park subdivision. The fence surrounding one of the largest homes in the upscale neighborhood impaled a moose in March. The fence had killed a moose several years earlier, shortly after it was constructed. No effort seems to have been made to cap its metal points.
Several hundred moose roam the parks and backyards of Anchorage, more in winter when moose are forced out of the mountains by deep snow. Anchorage contains thousands of miles of fences. Notably, the least common fence design seems to be killing the most moose.
In moose country, fences -- particularly ones bristling with spear tips -- do not make good neighbors.
Rick Sinnott is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org