The embattled Alaska Moose Federation has a new executive director, and with that, a mission to get back to basics.
Don Dyer officially took over the organization in mid-August, according to filings with the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. Dyer is the current president and owner of the MatSu Economic Development Corporation and former economic development director for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
He said his goal in the coming months is to tighten up the organization, both financially and in terms of its mission, by limiting its scope.
"It's absolutely about rebuilding trust, rebuilding credibility," he said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Dyer said AMF "spread itself way too thin" in programs, leadership and financial matters. For him, rebuilding starts with limiting the organization's scope and "trimming" everything that doesn't fit its core mission.
To Dyer, that mission is focused on roadkill pickups and charity delivery of moose meat. He said AMF would also evaluate what kind of role it will have in moose feeding and habitat building.
But there is one thing he said they will have no part in.
"I can guarantee you we will never touch rescuing moose calves ever again," he said. "We are completely out of that business."
The Alaska Moose Federation formed in 2002 to "grow more moose" but instead found itself facing controversy in recent years. Unorthodox programs geared at moose habitat restoration and calf rearing faced scrutiny over their efficacy and high price point. Over several years, the nonprofit organization received over $2.5 million in legislative grants to further their work. But with state funding in decline, numerous requests for additional funding were denied in 2013.
The group drew praise for its roadkill pickup efforts, though the program eventually ceased. Alaska State Wildlife Trooper Major Bernard Chastain said Friday that AMF was not currently assisting on roadkill pickups. He said while in operation, the organization responded to most highway moose salvages.
The calf program was especially controversial for its low rate of calf survival coupled with $1.8 million from the Alaska Legislature. From 2010 to 2014, AMF took in 28 animals and released 10 into the wild. Only two appear to have lived past the first year.
A new group, the Alaska Moose Mamas, took over calf care for AMF last year. The groups eventually split, with the Moose Mamas taking some Alaska Moose Federation board members and volunteers and trying to distance itself from its predecessor.
The Moose Mamas released two calves at a remote lake earlier this month, according to Facebook posts. Dyer said he was on hand himself to witness the release.
About $8,800 remains in the last legislative grant allocated to moose calf rescue and rehabilitation. Dyer maintains that the group still has enough funding to operate, though he declined to say through what sources.
Numerous attempts to contact AMF board chairman Robert "Moose" Henrichs for comment on the new leadership were unsuccessful Friday. Voicemails left with former executive director Gary Olson also went unreturned.
In June, Olson told Alaska Dispatch News he had stepped down from his position as the longtime leader of the organization. Olson, who helped create the organization, declined to say when exactly he had resigned or why. When reached via phone in June, Henrichs was unaware that Olson had even resigned.
It's also unclear exactly who is involved with leadership on the board. Dyer declined to say Thursday who was still involved in AMF's volunteer board of directors.
Dyer admitted that figuring out leadership was an ongoing issue that would be resolved in the coming weeks.
He said that along with the reorganization, he is working to rebrand, which includes likely eliminating the longtime "grow more moose" motto.
"We did (roadkill pickups) well and we've got great volunteers that will do it well again," he said. "I just want to make sure we're solid on that mission."
Alaska Dispatch Publishing