KENAI — Less than 20 minutes after a car collided with a moose on the Kenai Spur Highway Thursday, the dead ungulate was winched up onto an Alaska Moose Federation truck and standstill traffic had resumed.
The dead moose retrieval program, which was used to pick up more than 150 moose on the Kenai Peninsula last year, was projected by organizers to shut down earlier this year after a $2.2 million funding request to the Alaska Legislature was denied, forcing the Alaska Moose Federation to seek funding elsewhere.
The scramble for donations took until September to pay off, said Laurie Speakman, a volunteer driver on the Kenai Peninsula.
Speakman and another driver started picking up moose again on Nov. 6, just in time for the spike in moose-vehicle collisions.
The gap between July and November was difficult, she said.
“They shut us down on July 10,” she said. “But of course (I) didn’t know how to listen and on the 13th and 14th I picked up four more moose,” she said.
When the moose federation’s funding request was denied it began soliciting donations from private organizations to run the specially-equipped trucks and volunteer drivers who head to the scene when police call to report that a moose has been hit and is dead on the road.
Emergency dispatch services has a list of charity organizations and lets the driver know where to deliver the moose, Speakman said.
The organization scaled back salvage efforts when it got word of the funding denial and went from a 24 hours service to an “on call” service.
The organization’s founder, Gary Olson, said in June that the group wanted individual communities to fund the trucks so the moose federation could continue this service.
At the time the effectiveness of two other programs operated by the federation, including a habitat enhancement project designed to keep moose away from traffic corridors and facility in Willow built to house orphan moose, had been called into question by critics of the moose federation’s methods.
Olson said in June that if the organization did not receive funding to operate all of its programs, the salvage program would be prioritized.
In Kenai, the benefactor turned out to be the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, which contacted Speakman to let her know they would provide funding to continue the program for a year.
In exchange, the moose federation vehicles on the Kenai Peninsula now bear large “Kenaitze Indian Tribe” decals.
Typically one of the trucks costs about $10,000 annually to run and maintain, Speakman said.
Other communities in the state like Fairbanks and the Mat-Su have not yet funded their own trucks, however Speakman said the organization had gotten a few donations and was able to keep the moose retrieval program going in those areas so far this year.
Four of the program’s trucks operate on the Kenai Peninsula, two in Anchorage, two in Fairbanks and five in the Mat-Su Valley.
On the Kenai Peninsula, just two of the trucks are currently running, Speakman said she’s looking for more volunteer drivers.
She said spends several hours a week answering calls from police who respond to collisions.
Since July, at least 114 moose have been killed in collisions with vehicles on the Kenai Peninsula according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game data.
“I would say that it is probably on par with other years,” said Larry Lewis, ADFG wildlife technician.
Those numbers are low, he said, as about 25 percent of the moose that are hit do not die on the roadside and cannot be tracked.
This time of year, moose are out in droves, Lewis said.
“They’re coming to the road because quite often there’s vegetation and browse there,” he said. “We had four moose down in Kasilof where someone had spilled some minerals and they were licking salt off the road. Generally it’s easier walking for them, they’re not expending as much energy to try and walk by the road as they would be if they were in 4 feet of snow elsewhere.”
The central portion of the Kenai Peninsula, an area called 15A by ADFG, has been the highest source of moose-vehicle collision over the past 15 years, not including 2013, Lewis said.
He attributed the statistic to increased traffic in the area.
“All we can do is slow down,” he said. “Don’t drive faster than your headlights, just take your time.”
The continuation of the moose retrieval program is one that proponents of the group said will keep the roadways safer and Speakman said she’s working to get the word out to local charities that their moose retrieval and delivery service is back in business.
The volume might just do the job for her; in the past 13 days, she and another volunteer driver have picked up 14 moose, Speakman said.
“I’m thrilled to be back on the road,” she said. “I’m just glad none of the charities got hurt while picking up a moose.”