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Thread: Kenai Mountain Moose

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    Default Kenai Mountain Moose

    I'm interested in hearing what everyone knows about moose in unit 7. Why is the population so sparse? What has led to the significant decline? How does the future look?

    Background info: After spending a lot of time working in unit 7 and many conversations with local residents of this unit, I've learned that the moose numbers are MUCH lower than 10-20 years ago. I haven't had a chance to look at ADF&G Harvet Reports yet (thats the next step!) but found it interesting enough to get a thread going. I've heard reasons ranging from the difficult winter conditions, to low calf survival rates due to bear predation, to a fairly recent successful wolf transplant.

    Can anyone shed light on the situation and give traction to any of these arguements?

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    Member spoiled one's Avatar
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    I suspect that a lot has to do with all the brown bears that do not exist on the Kenai as well as the forest succession after the big burn many moons ago. Just a hunch.
    Spending my kids' inheritance with them, one adventure at a time.

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    Well, I dont know why the numbers would be lower than 20 years ago except there were less people then. But I know what the moose need is some huge burns. The resurrection trail area at both ends, the snow river valley, the moose pass and cooper landing areas would all benefit. The crown point fire created a small moose habitat but if it could have spread would have been spectacular for the moose. The deadfall around trail lake is horrific and would create great moose habitat. But since so many people live in the Kenais they control and extinguish all the fires keeping moose numbers low. Then again, the more they supress fires the more deadfall they create and eventually they will get a really really big blaze........ Caribou hills has had a few burns lately that should help the moose there.
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    Sounds like you've gotten the right answers. Each of those factors impacts moose recruitment. Another factor you did not mention is that habitat is changing from being friendly to large moose populations. Moose were a rarity on the Kenai before the later 1800s. Middens show comparatively few moose bones. Then forest fires created great moose browse for the better half of a century. Russell Annabell (as full of crap as he sometimes was prone to be) noted that the Kenai as a whole did not offer the browse it once did, while the Susitna was gaining in recruitment due to better browse. I don't think moose will ever become rare on the western Kenai, but the eastern side is more inhospitable to begin with. Fewer predators (including man), kind winters and a few fires might change that, but I wouldn't hold your breath waiting.

    One thing that seems to be true throughout history is that game populations are always dynamic and they come and go and come back again (hopefully)

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    Default Not just unit 7

    It's not just unit 7, but all subunits of unit 15 are also way down. Now I understand the burn arguement, but there are 2 primary reasons why I think the Peninsula's moose numbers could be better: Kalgin Island has no predators and from the info I've read it has the highest or very closest to the highest moose density in Alaska and to my knowledge there has never been a burn on this island. Plus now in unit 15C there has been extensive logging and a couple of good burns and the moose population is lower than it's ever been since Fish and Game started conducting aerial surveys, and the bull to cow ratio is pitiful 13:100 for 15C. The low bull ratio I tend to put more blame on the high amounts of illegal bulls that get shot every year, but for the low moose numbers I put that one on the high numbers of black and brown bears.

    It's not just moose, but caribou and sheep also looking at Fish and Game aerial surveys their population trends are much lower than they used to be. Now in my opinion this leads to the conclusion that predators are the primary factor because all 3 herbivore populations are much less than they used to be.

    Plus here are the latest calf to cow ratios ( # of calves per 100 cows):
    15A --- 16
    15B --- 11
    15C --- 18

    These ratios just don't support a growing moose pop.

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    I spend a considerable amount of time in helicopters on the western side of the peninsula and I've decided aerial surveys are worth about as much as the US dollar right now. Primarily because of the very habitat issue that I think is at the root of the moose decline. What do bears love? Super dense habbitat and moose calves. How much moose browse is in dense spruce forrests? Very little to none. Large parts of the peninsula are covered in habitat that hasn't burned in way too long and now has enough mature spruce to have choked out all moose browse. USFWS actually acknowledges this issue, they prescribe burns but generally call them off due to "un-favorable weather". You'll notice the most dense, un-inhabitable vegetation is on the refuge because they don't allow anyone to touch anything, ironic since it was once called the Kenai Moose Range or something to that effect...

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    Default Too true!

    Quote Originally Posted by limon32 View Post
    You'll notice the most dense, un-inhabitable vegetation is on the refuge because they don't allow anyone to touch anything, ironic since it was once called the Kenai Moose Range or something to that effect...
    Absolutely. Their values are misplaced.

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    Great information guys, thanks. Any comments on Peninsula wolves? I was told they were all but absent from the Kenai a while back but then were transplanted from up north and have now absolutely flourished. So would it be reasonable to assume that the state does not consider the Kenai Mtns to be viable moose habitat and instead focus their moose $ on better recruiting areas with higher holding capacities? In other words, are the Kenai Mountains being actively and aggressively managed for wildlife or is the 'what you see is what you get' approach being taken in unit 7?

    limon32, good to see you on the forum! Maybe you could accidently 'spark' a couple fires at work next summer.

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    From my reading:
    The northern Kenai developed into the great moose area that it was in the wake of the Swanson River fire. Nearly the whole northern 1/4 of the peninsula burned in the 60's. Burned areas become optimum moose browse from about 5 to 20 years after the fire then, eventually, mature to the point where the per acre yield of browse diminishes. And as their food goes, so go the moose.

    We groan a lot about predation (and sometimes that's the issue) but most often the underlying cause of moose numbers dropping in a certain area is the over maturation of their habitat. For better moose hunting it's not 'Drill! Baby Drill!' it's 'Burn!, Baby Burn!'

    Same thing in 16B. The problem there is the distribution of private parcels. A 40 or 50,000 acres of good, hot, spruce eradicating fire is needed biologically but simply not feasible politically. Maybe the state could market Alaska Wild Spruce Mulch and we could open a mill at Pt Mac which could drive some clearcutting in 16.
    If cave men had been trophy hunters the Wooly Mammoth would be alive today

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    Quote Originally Posted by sayak View Post
    Absolutely. Their values are misplaced.
    Their "misplaced" values are a direct reflection of the fact that every time there's smoke in the air the residents of the Kenai Penn go berzerk and want it extinguished post haste. You can't have it both ways. Sollybug is spot on; eventually the stars will come into alingment and there is going to be a HUGE uncontrollable fire on the Kenai Penn and all the mess will be cleaned up. One thing you can count on too; the houses will grow back in much faster than the Moose habitat.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Erik in AK View Post
    From my reading:
    The northern Kenai developed into the great moose area that it was in the wake of the Swanson River fire. Nearly the whole northern 1/4 of the peninsula burned in the 60's. Burned areas become optimum moose browse from about 5 to 20 years after the fire then, eventually, mature to the point where the per acre yield of browse diminishes. And as their food goes, so go the moose.

    We groan a lot about predation (and sometimes that's the issue) but most often the underlying cause of moose numbers dropping in a certain area is the over maturation of their habitat. For better moose hunting it's not 'Drill! Baby Drill!' it's 'Burn!, Baby Burn!'
    True story.

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    Quote Originally Posted by iofthetaiga View Post
    Their "misplaced" values are a direct reflection of the fact that every time there's smoke in the air the residents of the Kenai Penn go berzerk and want it extinguished post haste. You can't have it both ways. Sollybug is spot on; eventually the stars will come into alingment and there is going to be a HUGE uncontrollable fire on the Kenai Penn and all the mess will be cleaned up. One thing you can count on too; the houses will grow back in much faster than the Moose habitat.
    As a Kenai Peninsula resident, I doubt that citizen outcry is any kind of motivator for the USFW. What does motivate them are green values; "touch not".

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    Sayak, PM sent.

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    Default It's a combination

    While I know 15A and the Tustumena ridge in 15B are due for good burns, unless the numbers of brown bears are curbed the moose will never come back to good numbers. Fish and game counted a little over a hundred moose for the whole Tustumena ridge in 2009, and I've heard of private guys flying over some of the creeks around Tustumena Lake and counting upwards of 100 brown bears. I honestly believe there are more brown bears on the Tustumena ridge than there are moose, and the whole ridge could burn but when there are more brownies than moose, the moose pop. will not come back. In the area I hunted this fall I saw 10 different brown bears, and six yes six all within 300 hundred yards of one gut pile. That's telling me there are a lot of brownies around, and another thing we've noticed recently is during hunting season my family who I hunt with, or myself haven't heard a cow moan in the last couple of years. Four or five years ago you would hear cows moan pretty much every night after September 10th. We've heard of a couple guys who have had brownies come in on them while cow calling, and I honestly believe the moose have now reached a point where the cows don't want to moan because it attracts the numerous brownies from the surrounding areas to themselves.

    I'm not saying the peninsula doesn't need burns, just saying the bear and moose populations are at a point right now, unless Fish and Game allows for hunters to start taking more brown bears the moose pop. will not grow back to really good numbers.

    And I like the one point about the moose range, because when the Refuge was first created it was designed to provide great habitat for kenai peninsula moose, but seems now the preference has changed from perserving good moose numbers and habitat to making sure hunters on the peninsula don't harvest too many brown bears or wolves. It's sad because the Tustumena Ridge used to be one of the best trophy moose spots in all of Alaska, and I know people who recently hunted up there with horses for two weeks and saw one moose the whole time.

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    In general the hunters and residents on the Kenai peninsula that I have talked to about this same topic my self included can say that the hunting was a lot better here 10 years ago and while hunting then you hardly ever seen any brown bears around and would maybe cut a set of brown bear tracks once or twice a season. Now it dosnt matter where I hunt at I see bear tracks everywhere. I would bet that I would be safe to say that all the hunters down here would point to the largest reason for population decline on the peninsula as being bear related. The habitat is a factor but the caribou hills habitat has been improving since the fire but you still see no calvs. I hunted the hills this season and from my lookout I was able to see 30 cows but only one calf. now 30 sounds like a good morning but from my spot I can see a lot of land as its the highest peak in the area. (if you have hunted this area you know where I am) and most of the spoting was through my spotting scope and miles away. As an avid hunter of the peninsula its very discouraging to see so many bears in an area and no moose calfs because calfs are what we will be hunting in the coming seasons and its looking pretty bad. Until we are alowed to start harvesting the bears here both brown and black in higher numbers the hunting isnt going to get any better no matter what we do with the habitat. At the rate that fish and game is taking to realize that there is even a bear problem its going to be too late. I spoke with Lary louis on this and asked if we can expect to ever see a general season on the peninsula and his reply was "Probubly not in your lifetime". And I am only 29 so the outlook on the moose hunting getting better I would wager a large sum of money to say that its just going to keep getting worse, but now that the bear population is high and I have been seeing a lot of sows with 2 or three cubs, it will happen even faster than the rate we have seen over the last 10-15 years
    400-600 brown bears on the peninsula yeah right my dad had 7 different brown bears in his yard this year and he lives right close to town. And out by my house there were a lot more sightings than that

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    The deal is that nature worshippers love predators like the bear and wolf because they are majestic. It seems that they do not necessarily hold the moose in the same esteem as the predators, and have no qualms about abandoning the moose calves to growing numbers of them. Strange, isn't it?
    Hunters esteem the moose at least equally with bears, and many, if not most, of us hold the moose in higher esteem because of its value as food for our families (personally I have no interest in shooting any animal I don't plan to eat). The balance has clearly gotten out of whack, and it seems that hunters will have to make their concerns heard regarding bear predation. Hopefully it won't be as divisive an issue as wolf control has been, but there is a growing contingent of non-hunters now living in Alaska, and they are all for letting nature do its own thing without any help from hunters.
    Like many other peninsula resident hunters, I'm pretty well done with moose hunting on the pen. Between the crowds, the regs, and the dearth of legal bulls, it's just getting too hard to score these days, and I expect that it will get worse before it gets better.

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    I have to dispute this comment as well, most life-long residents I know around here are dying for most of the peninsula to burn. Trails that were once the heart of Kenai moose hunting are all but gone because the beetle killed spruce have made the trails totally impassable for so long. USFWS makes their decisions guided by D.C. operating procedures, not local knowledge or concern.

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    Sayak, I have to agree with you again at the risk of sounding like a broken record. I too have given up on moose hunting the peninsula and actually spent all of September and a good part of november chasing black bears rather than bother with the moose crowds. Interestingly, I have yet to shoot one. Not that I didn't see any, I believe I counted 12 blacks and 3 or 4 browns, but because of the same extremely dense vegetation that makes for terrible moose food, the bears have a HUGE advantage and always seem to sneak away.

    Black bears are an interesting topic of their own. USFWS indicated to me that there is estimated to be over 3000 blackies on the peninsula, quite possibly one of the highest densities in the state, however finding them is another story other than a few weeks in spring and fall. Of course there is baiting but alas the USFWS has managed to make that **** near impossible on a majority of the public land (Refuge) on the peninsula as well.

    Don't get me wrong, I think USFWS does some really good things however I don't understand their un-willingness to adress the predation issue. Take heart however, mother nature will correct the imbalance on her own eventually.

    One last note on the USFWS. I get to chat with them quite often and I have found that they take their mission statement quite literally and very seriously, in its own right a good thing. I encourage you to go read it on their website and I believe you will have a better understanding for their "narrow" view on things, at least from a hunter/habitat perspective.

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    I gave up moose hunting on the peninsula 3 years ago. I have lived here since I was 2 and I am 30 now. I killed 4 bulls while growing up from the age of 12 to 27, with 4 years I didn't hunt while I was in college. 3 years ago my hunting group started hunting the interior. I didn't hunt with them this year due to my son's birth, but I killed bulls last year and year before last. My group used to average 1 moose for 4 hunters on the peninsula. 3 years ago, out first year in the interior, we got 4 moose for 6 hunters, last year we got 6 for 7, and this year 4 for 6.

    Frankly, until fish and game pulls their head out and lets us start killing the thousands of brownies on the peninsula, I won't waste my time here. We have an epidemic here.
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    I used to have a calender in my house that had the number of days till opening day of moose season written down in it, and I looked forward to that day every year even more than Christmas. However I dont like to hunt here anymore. This year was the first in four years that I have hunted the peninsula for moose it is too discouraging to even get excited about opening day anymore however my wife and a good friend of mine both who have never killed a moose before wanted to go hunting and we got two within two hours of each other in the hills I cannot even start to explain to them how lucky they both were. I will chalk that one up to beginers luck in a big way.
    I stopped hunting here and started going up north because I got tired of seeing as many or more bear than moose in my old hunting spots. I have hunted up here for over 20 years and with limited access to the peninsula lands and the amount of native land you have to pay to hunt on, the sheer lack of moose and the over crowding of hunters on public land is also taking the fun out of it.
    Too many bears+too many people looking for the small amount of moose here+limited land access= hunting somewhere else for me

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