SE deer sighted in Anchorage for 3rd year

Posted: Tuesday, December 06, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Sitka black-tailed deer continue to be spotted in the Anchorage bowl and biologists say they may become permanent residents.

A deer was seen and photographed near the airport post office Wednesday. Shawn Smith startled the resting animal when he drove up to a construction trailer and got out of his vehicle.

"He jumped up," Smith said. "He was shocked and I was shocked."

Smith, 37, an engineer, took three pictures before the deer bolted toward a bog.

It's the third consecutive winter that someone in Anchorage has observed a Sitka black-tailed deer, said Fish and Game Department biologist Rick Sinnott. There could be two or more in the Anchorage area, he said.

A deer was seen at Kulis Air National Guard Base on the south side of the international airport last year, Sinnott said. They also were seen in the spring. Where they go in summer is a mystery.

"I know they're around, but I've never seen them," Sinnott said.

Sinnott has gotten at least a half-dozen calls from people saying they've seen a deer in south or west Anchorage, including a sighting near Point Woronzof, less than two miles from the airport post office.

"This has been a fascinating example of how animals colonize new areas naturally," he said.

Sitka black-tailed deer are native to Southeast Alaska and the Pacific Northwest but not to Prince William Sound, where they were introduced to two of the larger islands in the early 1900s.

The deer are strong swimmers and have spread through the sound. They also have been observed in the Placer and Twentymile valleys near the head of Turnagain Arm, just over the mountains from Whittier.

"For years we've had scattered reports of Sitka black-tail deer on the Placer River," Sinnott said. But the Placer, with its deep snows and wolves, is no place for deer to survive the winter, he said.

It would not take much for the animals to migrate west to Anchorage, which could be comfortable winter habitat. Deer eat the same sorts of vegetation as moose, including twigs in winter, Sinnott said.

If established here, he said, they could breed and do well.

"We plow the snow, we don't have predators here," Sinnott said.

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