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Kenai area's moose populations declining

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Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2012 8:54 am | Updated: 12:10 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

KENAI, Alaska — Four moose were harvested in Game Management Unit 15A on the Kenai Peninsula last year, said Ted Spraker, acting chair of the Alaska Board of Game.

"This is the same area that used to have upwards of 350, 360 moose taken in some years," he said. "In the last decade it's just been steadily going down and down and down."

When the Alaska Department of Fish and Game conducted a moose census in February 2008 in Unit 15A, the area of the Peninsula north of Sterling and west of the mountains, it counted about 2,000 moose — about 40 percent less than census findings in the '90s, said Thomas McDonough, a Homer-based Fish and Game research biologist.

The two factors culling moose population in 15A, McDonough said, are habitat and predators.

In 1969 a forest fire swept through much of 15A, replenishing and sustaining food for the moose through 1980 and 1990, McDonough said.

"When you get a fire, you get a whole change in the plant composition," he said "... Those early successional stages are what produces really highly quality moose food."

However, the moose have long since eaten much of the available food, he said.

"Without fire to rejuvenate habitat, you get predictable decline in moose numbers," he said, "and Fish and Game staff in the late '80s and '90s fully predicted we'd be in the situation we're in now."

To bolster moose's supplies of food, McDonough said Fish and Game will fell certain types of old trees this winter, such as aspen. He said it will be a small-scale operation that will encourage new root development, a good source of food for moose.

"If you cut certain areas and leave certain areas untouched, it creates a real mosaic of habitat types, which is good for a diversity of wildlife, not just moose," he said.

McDonough said Fish and Game will discuss further options this winter.

To address the predator aspect, the Board of Game passed a proposal in a January 2012 meeting to approve intensive management actions in areas of 15A and 15C, Kenai Area Wildlife Biologist Jeff Selinger said. Those actions could include aerial wolf gunning, Division Director of Fish and Game Doug Vincent-Lang said.

"It allows us to do aerial wolf control," he said, "but there are many other tools (in the box)."

The approval grants only Fish and Game permission to kill wolf populations, not the public, Spraker said.

"Now what we do have and what has been proven in all of our predator control programs is that if we can temporarily reduce the number of wolves — in other words, if we could take about 60 to 70 percent of the wolves in an area — it makes a profound effect on (moose) calf survival," he said.

Action on the initiative is currently postponed, pending further population studies, McDonough said. Vincent-Lang said Fish and Game will "probably" not implement any form of wolf control this winter.

Fish and Game is conducting further moose population studies in 15A, and it will release its findings this winter.

The new information will determine how Fish and Game responds to the diminishing moose population in the future, McDonough said.

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