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Warm winter affecting Kenai Peninsula wildlife

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

KENAI - The warm winter, with its heavy rainfall and lack of snow, is affecting wildlife on the Kenai Peninsula.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game already is getting calls about bear activity.

"We've already had three or four reports of browns out in Ninilchik, but lots of people are calling in saying they've seen tracks," said Jeff Selinger, area Fish and Game biologist.

Selinger said it's unusual to have bears out this early, but it's all related to the weather. Several factors are at play, including light penetrating the bears' dens because of lack of snow cover at the entrance, and warm temperatures or heavy rains wetting the inside of the dens.

Selinger speculated the bears people have seen are boars, since no family groups have been reported, and it's still too early in the year for cubs to follow their mother.

"Sows with cubs don't want to come out any earlier than they have to," he said.

The weather is helping the moose population.

Selinger reported 120 moose hit by vehicles on the peninsula so far, below the usual 140.

"Most road kills are more a factor of darkness," said Selinger. "But without the heavy snowpack they're more spread out and not using the roads as much."

Wolves also are affected.

"With so little snow, the wolves probably aren't getting the meals they would from moose and caribou," Selinger said.

Wolves typically get an easy meal when moose are chest deep in snow and at a disadvantage to run or protect themselves from predators.

"Wolf litter sizes will most likely be smaller this year as a result," Selinger said.

Wolves may be making up for the loss by preying on beaver.

Beaver food caches may have been washed away during the November floods last year. Combined with the sparse ice, that may mean the beavers are out earlier searching for food, exposing themselves to wolves.

Goat and sheep populations also may be having difficulties this year from all the ice. More ice than snow could mean more slips and fatal falls for the hoofed mammals.

Selinger speculated that populations of mice and other small mammals may be finding the weather troublesome. Without the heavy snowpack to insulate the ground, they are faced with the challenge of surviving in the cold temperatures that penetrate their burrows.



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