Kincaid Park is the heart of Anchorage’s urban wilderness, 1,400 forested acres interlaced with ski and bike trails and known for wildlife.
A lot happens inside the park: Cross-country skiing and motocross. Soccer tournaments and weddings. Mountain biking and frisbee golf.
Soon, moose hunting could be added to that list.
In a 7-0 vote last week, the Alaska Board of Game approved a proposal that would allow for a limited moose hunt within Kincaid Park, only for hunters with physical disabilities and mobility limitations.
The hunt was proposed by Ira Edwards, a scientist and ski coach who lives in Palmer and uses a wheelchair.
Edwards says the logistics of staging a hunt in a heavily used park still need to be worked out, but the idea is this: Hunters who are physically disabled with mobility limitations would receive permission to use archery, a crossbow or shotgun to hunt antlerless moose within Kincaid during a roughly two-week period in October. Only four tags would be available. Part of the park would be closed to the public during the weekday, daylight hours while the hunt was happening. The entire moose carcass would need to be removed from the kill site, a task the hunter could have a helper assist with.
The earliest a hunt might take place is October 2024, Edwards said.
Edwards contends that people with physical disabilities have few opportunities to hunt in Alaska, and the park is the ideal place because of its extensive trail system and abundant moose population.
In Alaska, anyone can propose a change in regulation to the Alaska Board of Game. And while the board’s decision means the state has signed off on the idea, the proposal still needs approval from the municipality because Kincaid is closed to hunting and trapping without approval from the municipal park director, according to municipal regulation.
The administration of Mayor Dave Bronson signaled that it’s open to the idea.
“The concept of providing a very limited moose hunt for qualified disabled individuals within our biggest park has merit,” the city said in a statement. “A number of details will need to be sorted out to safely implement the hunt.”
Anchorage Parks and Recreation director Mike Braniff didn’t respond to multiple calls and emails for comment.
Not everyone thinks a hunt at Kincaid Park is a good idea.
“We’re sympathetic to the author’s intent of trying to find hunting opportunities for a disabled population,” said Nicole Schmitt, the executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, a conservation organization that opposes the proposed hunt. “The real concern for us is how in the world are they going to block the hunt area in a way that’s safe — because the density of trails is so high.”
People are out in the park every time of the year, she said. And there are too many entrance points to close the whole park, Schmitt said.
“You can get into those trails in all sorts of ways,” she said.
Edwards has been pushing for a Kincaid Park moose hunt for years.
In 2010, when Edwards was working as a park ranger, he was struck by a falling tree while clearing land at the Nancy Lakes Recreation Area and paralyzed from the waist down. A lifelong Alaskan who grew up fishing, hunting, biking and skiing, he found ways post-injury to continue doing those activities with the use of adaptive equipment. He hunted last fall using a side-by-side and got a moose. He wants more Alaskans with physical disabilities to have that experience.
“It’s possible to hunt in a wheelchair, it’s just really difficult and your opportunities are severely limited,” Edwards said. There are other hunting opportunities for people with physical disabilities in Alaska, but they require veteran status, he said.
Edwards first brought up the idea of an urban moose hunt for people with physical disabilities at Kincaid almost a decade ago. In 2015, the proposal didn’t pass.
Kincaid is an ideal place for a hunt because even the furthest reaches of the park are accessible to people in wheelchairs and other mobility devices, Edwards said.
“It looks like a wilderness park because you’ve got trees and bushes everywhere,” he said. “But there’s a trail within 100 feet of every single spot in the park.”
Part of Edwards’ pitch to the Board of Game is that a hunt might help reduce the number of moose-human conflicts within the park. He’s had friends injured by moose in Kincaid, and he was badly bruised when he encountered a moose while using his handcycle in the park, he said.
“This will positively affect public safety,” Edwards said.
Since 2017, there have been a total of just three human-moose incidents at Kincaid Park reported to the Department of Fish and Game, according to area biologist Dave Battle. Additional conflicts have likely happened but haven’t been reported, he said.
“There have been more incidents where people had close calls — they got charged, and they got behind a tree, stuff like that,” Battle said.
Those conflicts have happened in May or June, when cows are defensive of their calves, he said. It’s hard to know whether even a limited hunt would impact the way moose and humans interact at the park.
“As far as reducing conflict, a hunt may or may not help,” Battle said. “It’s intuitive that having a few less moose there — that’s fewer to come into contact with people.”
In Fish and Game’s official comments, the department noted that moose are seen by some as a threat and others as a boon to the park.
“While some recreational park users are concerned with public safety, others value moose for viewing,” the department’s comment said. “Many people specifically go to Kincaid Park in the fall to photograph and view rutting behavior.”
The hunt brings up a question, said Schmitt, of the Wildlife Alliance. And it’s not whether the population of moose should be hunted; it’s whether Kincaid Park should include hunting among its many uses.
“Is this a biological question, or is this more of a social and cultural question?” she said.
Beth Nordlund, the executive director of the Anchorage Parks Foundation, said she hadn’t heard about the proposal for the limited moose hunt in Kincaid until a reporter called her. Implementation seemed like it would be tricky, she said. But if Anchorage wants to offer urban hunting to disabled hunters, it’d be hard to think of another location.
“If Anchorage is going to be a city that offers any hunting inside its urban boundaries for human beings that are in wheelchairs — I can’t think of another place that doesn’t have houses around it,” she said.
In the 1970s, before much of the airport development that exists adjacent to the park today, an archery hunt of Kincaid moose was allowed, said Rick Sinnott, a retired longtime Anchorage area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It was a “free for all” in which hunters didn’t have to show competency. As many as five arrows were shot per moose harvested, Sinnott said.
“It was such a debacle,” Sinnott said.
When that hunt was discontinued, others tried — over decades — to propose a bow-and-arrow hunt within the park. Sinnott has always been opposed.
He believes the park just isn’t safe to hunt in, due to what he described in a public comment on Edwards’ proposal as an “extensive and interwoven” trail system accessed via a “bewildering array” of social trails, some leading from neighborhoods into the park.
“It’s never been a suitable place for a hunt,” he said.
Edwards says he’s considered the objections raised by critics of the plan and will work to design the hunt to be safe and minimally disruptive to the public. Kincaid is not a wildlife sanctuary, he says. It’s a highly developed park used by a lot of people. Why not physically disabled hunters?
“My goal is to show the public that this hunt can be accomplished safely.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized a statement by former area biologist Rick Sinnott about a prior archery moose hunt in Kincaid Park. Sinnott said up to five arrows were shot per moose harvested, not that some moose ended up shot by five arrows.