Juneau’s had about five moose sightings this summer, which is par for the course for the past couple years, said Ryan Scott, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Fish and Game. But compared to five years ago, appearances of these large ungulates are up.
“The last two or three years, we’ve had people see moose in random places out the road,” Scott said. “In Juneau, it’s still a random thing.”
Moose aren’t particularly prolific around these parts, he said. There are a few isolated herds nearby, and family groups and singles sometimes migrate to populated areas.
When they do make appearances, it’s often around Cowee and Davies creeks. There are lots of things for moose to munch on in that area, including willow shrubs — “the No. 1 moose food” — and blueberry and cranberry plants, Scott said. There aren’t too many places in Juneau that can support moose.
“Southeast Alaska is not a super moosey habitat,” Scott said.
There are several herds near Juneau, ADF&G moose research biologist Kevin White said — naturally occurring herds near the Endicott and Taku river drainages and in Saint James Bay, and a transplant herd in Berners Bay. This herd got its start in the late 1950s and early 1960s by a few calves that were brought south from the Wasilla area, White said.
“It stands out like a sore thumb genetically,” he said. “It’s from a completely different genetic stock.”
The moose Juneauites are spotting are most likely from the Berners Bay herd, White said.
Scott said he thinks the sightings this year have all been of the same family — a mom and twin babies. Over the past few years, residents have also spied a family consisting of a bull, cow and calf along Glacier Highway.
Since 2006, ADF&G has been researching and tracking the Southeast moose population, White said. The harsh winter of 2006 depleted 40 percent of the Berners Bay herd, he said. Researchers have been monitoring the population and its location over the years with the help of GPS and radio collars. Currently, there are about 25 moose wearing radio collars, White said.
“Overall we’ve had 25 to 35 adult female moose radio collared per year since 2006,” he said. “Since 2010, the efforts for our research have been reduced, and we aren’t doing captures as frequently as we used to. We capture animals every two years.”
The project got its start when the state Department of Transportation gave ADF&G money to study animal habitats near the former Juneau Access Project site. Although that funding has since dried up, the project will continue until the Berners Bay moose population is stable once again, probably for another couple years, White said.
Through tracking the moose, researchers have found the herd now has a survival rate of 90 percent from year to year. The team is also interested in monitoring calf survival rates. White said 40 percent of babies born to the Berners Bay herd are twins, the rest singles.
Although Scott doesn’t think moose will be moving into town any time soon, there are areas with potential, he said. For instance, the land being exposed by the Mendenhall Glacier as it melts could sustain a group of moose, he said.
“Who knows, maybe we’ll have some moose move out and colonize parts of Juneau,” he said.
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.