Alaska Shorts: Bill Sherwonit’s Close Encounters of the Moose Kind

Used with permission of Alaska Department of Fish & Game

Excerpted from The Nature of Cities website which seeks to promote worldwide dialog and action to create green cities that are sustainable, resilient, livable, and just. Bill Sherwonit lives and writes in Anchorage.

Not only do hundreds of moose inhabit the city’s landscape, most of the 300,000 or so people who live here appreciate the ungulates’ big, wild presence. Clear evidence of that was demonstrated in a study conducted in 2009 for the Alaska Department of Game by a company called Responsive Management.

Now a century old, Anchorage has at various times during its short history proclaimed itself the “Air Crossroads of the World,” a “City of Lights” and a place of “Big Wild Life” (the latter for the community’s “perfect blend of urbanity and wilderness”). But I have long believed—and yes, opined in my writings—that Alaska’s urban center could easily be called the “City of Moose.” I’m not the only one to publicly express this view. Earlier this year, former state wildlife manager Rick Sinnott, now a contributor to the Alaska Dispatch News, went so far as to write a cover story for the ADN’s Sunday magazine playfully promoting the City of Moose idea.

Among the findings: “While acknowledging that moose cause some problems, the large majority of Anchorage residents (87%) say that encounters with moose make life in Anchorage seem more interesting and special. A further indication of tolerance toward moose is that an overwhelming majority (94%) indicate that they have enjoyed watching moose in the Anchorage area in the past 2 years.”

Still, not everyone likes having moose around. Some folks are angered by the animals’ taste for ornamental plants and garden vegetables and would like their numbers thinned. Others, particularly parents with children, understandably worry about the dangers moose present. And a vocal minority argues that cities are for people, period, and moose shouldn’t be allowed here (nor should any other big, wild animals that can inflict injuries be tolerated, most notably bears, or so the argument goes).

Inevitable conflicts between people and moose, some of which lead to injury or even death, show the challenges of living with wildlife—and, more generally, wild nature—in an urban community, even in a place where most residents feel a close connection to what might be called the “natural world” and where people place great value on outdoors activities.
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Most of the city’s human residents live in what’s called the “Anchorage Bowl,” a roughly triangular piece of lowland bounded on two sides by the waters of Cook Inlet and on the third by the Chugach Mountains. That bowl is also year-round home to an estimated 200 to 300 moose, with winter numbers tripling, to between 700 and 1,000 animals, when they’re driven out of neighboring hills by deepening snow and lured into the city by Anchorage’s relative abundance of winter food, much of it in the form of fruit-bearing ornamental trees and shrubs.
Though their density varies through the year, moose can be found throughout Anchorage in any season, even in the heavily commercialized downtown and midtown areas. In fact, I’d wager that for much of the year there’s no better locale in Alaska to see North America’s largest member of the deer family. Many that inhabit the city prefer the parks, greenbelts and wooded lots of west Anchorage, including the Turnagain area, where I have lived since 2006 after more than a dozen years on the city’s Hillside.
Read the rest of Bill Sherwonit’s piece here

Born in Bridgeport, Conn., nature writer Bill Sherwonit has called Alaska home since 1982. His most recent books include Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife, Living with Wildness: An Alaskan Odyssey, and Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness.

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