Moving Moose

Relocation proposal faces too many practical obstacles

Opinion / Anchorage Daily News / April 29, 2004

It sounds tempting. Too many moose in Anchorage? Scoop up a few and ship'em elsewhere, like we do with nuisance bears. Plenty of places in the Bush would be happy to have more moose to hunt. Fewer moose here would mean less risk of car crashes or school kids getting stomped on. A win-win solution. Especially when a nonprofit group is willing to do the work at no cost to the city or state.

In this case, though, the idea isn't as simple as it seems. While state Sen. Con Bunde has devoted a lot of time and research trying to craft a responsible law allowing moose relocations, practical obstacles make the tactic more trouble than it's worth. Better to focus Anchorage's moose-management efforts on measures that are less controversial and more likely to work.

The first problem is how Fish and Game would figure out which are the "nuisance" moose to be targeted for removal. One person's nuisance may well be another person's delight. One family may feel menaced by a moose hanging around while another may feel entranced. A moose 50 yards from the Coastal Trail is less menacing than one standing in the trail.

Moose are most likely to cause trouble when it's most difficult to tranquilize and relocate them. Males in rutting season can be unruly, but if they're targeted for removal, they are more likely to die under the stress of sedation and relocation. The same is true for moose coming off a lean winter, or females that are pregnant or nursing.

A moose that isn't hanging around people isn't a nuisance. But those that do hang around people are difficult to dart safely. If the moose does not drop immediately, it could charge into traffic or nearby yards. The chemical in the darts is deadly to humans. Shooters must be able to recover any dart that is shot.

Moving a tranquilized moose is not a simple operation, either. Slinging a 1,200-pound animal around is not easy, especially when you're trying to keep it alive. Delivering such a big load to Bush locations would take a sizeable aircraft. While in transit, the moose need veterinary supervision. Even then, they may die from the drug dose or the stress of the move.

Once the moose were delivered to a suitable place, hunting them would not be safe for some time: The tranquilizer in their system is poisonous to humans and it would take time to detoxify the meat before it could be eaten safely. They may or may not escape predators long enough to become available to hunters. If predators get them early on, the residual drug in the moose's system may harm the animal that eats it.

In any event, a one-by-one approach to moose control wouldn't do much to reduce the local population. Volunteers would have to move hundreds of moose or calves a year over several years to significantly reduce the risk of car collisions and unsafe encounters in town. It would be simpler, faster and cheaper just to authorize more hunting.

Any call for more moose hunting around Anchorage would provoke public resistance. (That's one reason relocation has some appeal to begin with.) Before culling large numbers from the local herd, most people in Anchorage probably would prefer to explore nonlethal ways of living more safely with moose.

The Alaska Moose Federation has other worthwhile ideas, such as fencing along busy roads with underpasses or overpasses, or plowing safe winter routes for moose away from roadsides. If a school has moose hanging around, taller, more secure fencing might be the best solution.

A moose in the yard is not as inherently dangerous as having a bear show up for a visit. Moose don't view people as potential sources of food. They seldom bother humans who don't bother them. Developing a formal moose relocation program, even one run by well-trained volunteers at no cost to the public treasury, is too much work for too little payoff. Living with urban moose -- cheerfully, but very warily -- is still the best solution.

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