While much has been said and written about this season's moose-human conflicts at Kincaid Park, little attention (at least that I can tell) has been given to one recent development that has contributed to the increased encounters between people and moose, namely the huge expansion of single-track bike trails at Kincaid.
Not surprisingly, Anchorage's cycling community has celebrated the increased recreational opportunity these trails provide. Among the celebrants is Mike Jens. In a recent letter to the Anchorage Daily News, Jens lauded the both Singletrack Advocates group and the "army of volunteers" who have built "many new trails on the north side of the park." Jens notes that those trails have been placed "to avoid conflicts with the existing ski trail system, minimize environmental impacts and drainage issues, and allow access to parts of the park that have been previously unused and unexplored." He then encourages others to check out the new trails and other existing ones to the south, which though not brand new were also completed within the past year. He ends by crediting the Singletrack Advocates, who "are doing a great job." There's no arguing his final point if you're a single-track biker. Not so much, if you're a moose.
I couldn't help but notice the irony of the timing of Jens' letter, which was published only two days after the Daily News ran a short article, "Bicyclist shoots moose that charged at Kincaid." Like several of my friends, I was dismayed to learn that a second moose, this one a cow, had been shot and killed at Kincaid, less than a month after the regrettable shooting of a bull that happened to be in the wrong place during a cross-country race. The article didn't say what trail the cyclist had been using (in fact it was reported as an "unspecified trail"), only that "he rounded a corner and saw a moose and two calves about 25 feet to the left of the trail."
According to police, the cyclist's dog (reportedly released from its leash) "started to bark and apparently the moose charged him." The man then shot at the moose "multiple times with a handgun because he was afraid the animal would hurt him." The moose was found, some time later, on the disc golf course, not far from the Kincaid Chalet. Police then killed the seriously injured animal.
There's lots about this latest killing that bothers me, but for now I'll focus on one concern of mine: though Jens claims the new single-track trails "minimize environmental impacts," he and others are ignoring the fact that these trails have greatly fragmented much of what remained of Kincaid Park's woodlands, already considerably diminished in recent years by assorted new developments, including several soccer fields (and one stadium), plus a new biathlon shooting range. The construction of those play areas had combined to destroy many acres of forest. Now the Singletrack Advocates have made new and substantial inroads into what remains.
I regularly hike Kincaid, so I can say with certainty that there are now large swaths of the park where it is impossible to walk without seeing adjacent trails (or hearing other people recreating upon them). And in several areas where I walk with my dog, moose sightings and encounters have increased substantially.
While Jens and other Singletrack Advocates may not consider this woodland fragmentation an environmental impact, I don't know what else you'd call it. And I don't see how the high density of winding, looping trails has minimized impacts to the moose (and other wildlife) habitat. To my eyes and mind, it seems just the opposite. In some places it's now almost impossible to avoid the new trails. This of course means that it is now harder for moose to avoid us humans, and that in turn means more encounters. More conflicts.
I'm really not sure what can be done at this point except to say NO MORE TRAILS at Kincaid. I'm sure such a proposal will irk many people, including those who love the increased recreational opportunities and others who feel that wildlife should always have to defer to us humans, even in a park (not to mention those who believe our city should be entirely free of moose and bears and any other dangerous or irksome animals). Some, like Craig Medred (see his recent "Limit urban moose risks: Either open a hunt at Anchorage's Kincaid Park or create a new preserve") will no doubt argue that I'd like to rid Kincaid of people, a ridiculous claim. I assume his tongue was planted firmly in cheek when he proposed the two extremes: nature preserve or moose hunt. But our city's planners do need to more seriously consider wildlife's needs when contemplating new development, especially within Anchorage's world-class system of parks and other natural areas.
On two recent visits to Kincaid, I drove past the Raspberry parking lot/trailhead, which was filled to overflowing with cars and people, especially bikers. I have never seen that place so crowded, but of course there was good reason: cyclists (and others) wanted to hit the trails on a dry and sunny day during this remarkably warm and snow-free October. And that parking lot seems to be the primary place that people gain access to the new single-track trails. Because I prefer solitude on my outings, I happily drove elsewhere to begin my hike. But I also thought about the moose and their forest habitat being invaded by ever growing numbers of people. Increased encounters and conflicts and harm — almost always to the wildlife — seem inevitable here. To me, they're another regrettable result of our human desire for more, more, more and the too-common belief or attitude that our needs and desires must be served first and foremost, even in a place — a parkland—that has been something of a refuge for wildlife while also being a great place for people to recreate. So is it any wonder that while the single trackers are celebrating, the moose are losing. And that losing column so far includes two deaths.
Bill Sherwonit has contributed essays and articles to a wide range of publications (both traditional and online) and is the author of more than a dozen books, including "Living with Wildness: An Alaskan Odyssey" and "Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness." He has closely followed and written about Alaska's wildlife politics since the mid-1980s and has started work on a collection of essays titled "Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska's Wildlife."
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.