Moose salvage program in fiscal jeopardy

KENAI — A dead moose salvage program faces closure by this fall after its funding request was denied by the Alaska Legislature.

The Alaska Moose Federation is trying to solicit private donations after lawmakers didn’t fund its request for $2.2 million, the Peninsula Clarion reported.

The federation sends volunteer drivers and specially equipped trucks to the scenes of vehicle-moose accidents. Troopers call in the location, and the drivers collects the moose carcass, cuts out the meat and delivers it to charities. About 150 moose were collected in the Kenai Peninsula last year alone.

But the program has been scaled back since April, when the request was denied.

Founder Gary Olson says if funding can’t be found by October, the program will end.

The need for the program’s services usually slows from April to September.

“October is when a lot of the collisions start back up,” he said.

He is hoping communities might step in and fill the funding gap left by the Legislature.

“We’re regionalizing the program,” Olson said. “If, say, Fairbanks all of the sudden comes to the aid, Fairbanks is going to go. If Kenai says ‘We’re going . this is important, we’re going to do it,’ then it’s going to go in Kenai. Money from Kenai is not going to go to Mat-Su and vice versa.”

The organization operates with 13 trucks, and each costs about $10,000 a year to operate and maintain.

Four are currently stationed on the Kenai Peninsula, two in Anchorage, two in Fairbanks and five in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

State grants previously paid for the purchase of trucks and equipment, but not operation of the program, Olson said.

Two volunteer drivers told the Clarion that they spend enough time each week for it to qualify as a part-time job.

If the program folds, Olson said the organizations that receive the moose might go ahead and try to retrieve the carcasses from accident scenes, which he said would force troopers to spend more time at accident scenes since those people won’t have the proper equipment.

“Normally it takes two or three hours to go cut up a moose on the side of the road,” volunteer driver Walt Hitesman of Palmer said. “We get it picked up in six to eight minutes, that frees up the trooper and gets the road back as safe as it can be.”

The moose federation also participates in two moose conservation programs, which some have questioned how efficient those efforts are. Those include a habitat enhancement program, designed to keep moose away from highway corridors, and a facility in Willow to house orphaned moose until they can be released into the wild.

Olson said if they do receive funding, the salvage program would get priority over conservation efforts.

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