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Caribou, Deer, Elk & Moose

Caribou, Deer, Elk & Moose

Antlers (mp3, Transcript)

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Antlers

On a sunny summer day in Southcentral Alaska, a young bull moose steps into a clearing sporting a growing set of antlers. Across Alaska, male deer, moose, and caribou are growing antlers. Antler is the fastest growing bone known, and the velvet antler of a big healthy moose or elk can grow three-quarters of an inch per day in summer. It's a tremendous expenditure of energy, comparable to a pregnant female gestating a calf. And it's an annual occurrence - all those antlers will be shed in the winter.

In spring and summer, the growing antler has a complex network of veins and arteries in the marrow of the developing bone. The skin covering the growing antler is called velvet, and has nerves and hair and oil glands. The growing antler feels warm to the touch, and the deer would feel you touching it.

A young male deer, a fawn born in the spring, gets a surge of testosterone in his first summer that causes the growth of two bony bumps called pedicles, which will become the platform for future antlers. The first fall, small buttons develop, but it's not until the next summer that the first recognizable antlers form, small spikes. Antler size depends on genetics, nutrition and the health of the deer, and its age. A young buck, two or three years old, is still growing its skeleton, but once it's full grown, nutrients that went to bone growth are transferred to the antlers.

Antlers are not horns. Deer, moose, elk and caribou have antlers, sheep and goats have horns. Horns have a bony core covered with keratin, the same protein that hooves, claws and fingernails are made of. Horns are not shed, and if they're cut off, they don't grown back.

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Caribou (mp3)

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Caribou Swamp Predators (mp3, Transcript)

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Swamping predators

Spring on the north slope of the Brooks Range, and hundreds of thousands of caribou have congregated on their traditional calving grounds. The four largest caribou herds in Alaska have their calves north of the Brooks Range on the coastal plain. Tens of thousands of caribou calves are born in about a three week period at the end of May and the first weeks of June.

All those caribou calves attract predators - but they also overwhelm the predators. It's known as predator swamping, or predator saturation - an anti-predator adaptation where prey occurs for a short time at very high densities, which reduces the probability of an individual animal being eaten. When predators are flooded with food, they can only eat so much, and the prey animals prey benefit from safety in numbers.

Wolves and bears and to a lesser degree, wolverines and golden eagles, watch the herds and eat newborn calves. But this window of opportunity is short-lived; when caribou calves are just a few weeks old they are able to keep up with their mothers and other adults in the herd and keep away from wolves and bears. Because tens of thousands of caribou are all born within a very short time, predators are swamped with food.

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Counting a Half-Million Caribou (mp3)

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Deer Clues (mp3)

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Deer Eat Poison (mp3, Transcript)

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Deer eat Poison

A Sitka black-tailed deer is browsing in an alpine meadow on a summer day. The young buck bends to nip the green, heart-shaped leaves off a low-growing plant called maianthemum, then ambled over to a tall spiky plant with white flowers. It's veratrum, a poisonous plant also known as false hellebore or corn lily.

Why would deer eat a toxic plant, and how do they survive? Wildlife Biologist tom Hanley has studied deer nutrition and he said he's amazed at what deer eat. And not just poisonous plants- he's watched deer chow down on the thorny leaves of devil's club with any apparent ill- effect.

Deer thrive on a mixed diet, and will eat a little bit of a wide variety of plants that are available to them. The combination of plants in the digestive tract may minimize the toxic effects of some of the foods. There are threshold levels for toxicity, and as long as deer stay below that threshold, they're okay. They also eat the less toxic parts of the plant. Toxicity varies in different parts of plants, and in false hellebore, the flowers are far less toxic than the roots.

Deer have bacteria in their stomachs that help them digest the food they eat. Small quantities of toxins help these microbes adapt, and over time the deer's digestive system is able to tolerate limited quantities of the toxins in their diet. Deer also eat clay and lick minerals from the soil that tend to buffer or bind to some toxins and counteract the effects.

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Deer Fawns (mp3, Transcript)

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Deer fawns

Driving a highway on Prince of Wales Island in early June, we spot a Sitka black-tailed deer in the road. It's a doe with a tiny fawn, just a few days old. The doe darts into dense forest and the fawn collapses. It's odd to see this baby deer lying beside the road, and it's not a safe spot. I'm riding with a pair of wildlife biologists, and we pull over. I take a few pictures and one biologist pulls on a pair of latex gloves and picks up the little deer. It's no bigger than a cat, but with long, gangly legs. He carries it off the roadside and gently sets it in the tall grass and lush, emerging fireweed.

There's nothing wrong with the fawn or its mother. This behavior is a survival strategy. Fawns are well camouflaged and have virtually no scent, making it difficult for predators to locate them. The mother will often leave her fawn in a hiding place while she forages, and if she has twins, she'll hide them separately.

As a nursing mother she needs to feed, and she doesn't want to attract predators to her vulnerable young. It's much easier for a bear or a wolf to smell an adult deer, but an adult is pretty fast, unlike a fawn. If a predator surprises a doe and fawn in the forest, the drop and freeze technique can serve a fawn well. Not only is the fawn hidden in the vegetation, the fleeing adult is an eye catching distraction. After a month or so the fawn is strong enough to keep up with its mother.

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Deer On Camera (mp3, Transcript)

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A handsome Sitka Black-tailed deer, sporting a three-point rack, is photographed by a motion-triggered trail camera on Douglas Island near Juneau, one of the most popular islands for deer hunting in Southeast Alaska. In 2021, a three-year project was launched to help Fish and Game biologists better understand how many deer - and of what age classes - live on the island. Similar studies are being done on Mitkof Island near Petersburg and Gravina island near Ketchikan, also due to their popularity with hunters.

Newly developed statistical analysis enables researchers to draw meaningful conclusions from the pictures captured by 15 carefully placed cameras. Camera sites on Douglas were identified using a winter deer habitat model - essentially a map of areas where deer would find food and shelter during times of moderate and heavy snow. A grid laid on the map defines areas for camera placement, each is two-kilometers squared, about twice the size of a deer winter home range. This reduces the likelihood of counting the same deer at multiple cameras. The results will help biologists manage deer on these Southeast Alaska Islands

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Deer Scent Attractants (mp3, Transcript)

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Deer scent attractants and CWD

Deer hunters in Alaska use a variety of tricks to bag deer. Calling is one way to attract deer, blowing a deer call that imitates the sound of a doe or fawn. Some hunters rattle antlers, imitating the sound of bucks sparring to attract curious or aggressive buck deer during the fall mating season.

In the past, some hunters also used scents to attract deer. These are not commonly used in Alaska, because of the concern of drawing bears, but they are popular down south. Many of these contain urine from domestic deer, often does in estrus. In 2012, scent attractants that contain real deer or elk urine were banned in Alaska.

Urine-based scent attractants are a possible route into Alaska for chronic wasting disease, a degenerative, fatal illness that affects deer, moose, and elk. The disease has not yet been found in Alaska - and wildlife managers are working to keep it out.

CWD is spreading in the Lower 48. It was first detected in mule deer in northern Colorado in the late 1960s and since then it's spread to free-ranging and captive deer and elk in 24 states and two Canadian provinces. CWD has also been detected in wild moose in Colorado and Wyoming.

An infected animal can transmit the disease through urine. Keeping deer scent attractants out of the state is one way to keep Alaska's deer, moose and caribou populations disease-free.

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Deer in Winter (mp3, Transcript)

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Deer and winter

Tromping through the winter woods a few years ago, I came across a fallen hemlock tree, blown down in a southeast Alaska windstorm. All around the tree, the snow was trampled and littered with deer pellets. It was a hard winter, and deer were having a hard time moving around in the deep snow and finding food. Snow covered the browse on the ground, and they'd eaten everything they could reach above the snow. This downed tree was a bonanza. Deer had eaten all the young growth off the tips of the branches and all the lichens in the tree, and it was clear they'd yarded up at the site.

I kept walking, and cut across deer tracks and wolf tracks as well. A half an hour later, I came across another fallen tree - same story. I wondered if the local wolves had figured out that these fallen trees might be good places to ambush deer, and I looked around. Sure enough, I found hair, bones and the remains of a recently killed deer.

Deep snow, especially snow that persists into the spring, can wreak havoc on a deer population. March and April can be cruel months for deer in Southeast Alaska - if snow persists into spring, deer can exhaust their reserves and the limited, available winter food supply. Consequently, deer populations fluctuate depending on the severity of winter.

Fortunately, deer have a high reproductive potential, and depending on the level of predation and the quality of habitat, deer populations can quickly rebound.

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Elk (mp3)

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Elk in Alaska (mp3, Transcript)

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Elk in Alaska

The bugle of a bull elk in rut is sound that's not often heard in Alaska. Elk are found in only a few locations in Alaska, where they've been introduced. Elk - one of the largest members of the deer family and iconic big game animal of the American west - are not native to Alaska.

In 1929, eight elk from Washington State were introduced to Afognak Island near Kodiak, and a small herd was established. The population grew, and in 1950 hunting began. The population has fluctuated over the years, with some hard winters reducing the numbers, but elk continue to persist on Afognak Island and have spread to nearby Raspberry Island

Several attempts were made to introduce elk to islands in Southeast Alaska in the 1920s and 30s, but the transplants failed. Subsequent transplant attempts in the 1960s failed as well. In 1987, fifty elk were captured in Oregon and transplanted to Etolin Island near Petersburg. These animals dispersed and established a second breeding population on nearby Zarembo Island. More than 20 years later, the elk are still present, and a few animals are harvested by hunters each year.

Fish and Game biologists are studying elk in Southeast Alaska to learn more about how these animals impact their food sources, affect their habitat, and how their presence affects native populations of Sitka black-tailed deer.

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Finding and Keeping Antlers (mp3, Transcript)

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Finding and Keeping Antlers

On a summer day near Ketchikan I'm cutting across a big muskeg meadow and find a beautiful three point antler, shed last fall by a Sitka black-tailed deer. Like many people, I save antlers I find. I'm not a dedicated horn hunter - as many such people describe themselves - although they're actually antler hunters, but I do save them when I find them.

In Alaska it's legal to keep naturally shed antlers, and the bones and skulls of terrestrial animals. I've found beaver and porcupine skeletons, and saved the skulls, which actually look pretty similar. In many cases the skeletons show no sign of scavenging, although there are usually small parallel scratches indicating mice and voles chewed on the bones a little for the calcium.

Land ownership - where you find it - is important. It's illegal to take anything out of a national park. So a moose antler shed on the Gustavus forelands is legal to take home, but if it falls off a mile away in Glacier Bay National Park, it has to stay there.

Beachcombing is a little different. In most coastal areas of Alaska it is legal to keep the bones of marine mammals, but the parts should be registered with the appropriate agency that manages the animals, either the Fish and Wildlife Service, or the National Marine Fisheries service. It is not legal for non-Native people to collect baleen.

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Juneau Moose (mp3, Transcript)

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Juneau moose

A moose stands beside Backloop road in Juneau's Mendenhall Valley. A car passes, and the moose crosses the road as a second car approaches. There's no danger, but the driver is astonished. Her first thought is that it's a horse. A moose in the road is nothing to write home about in most areas of Alaska, but it's unheard of in Juneau. Until this Late September morning in 2016, there were no moose in Juneau.

Even in the 21st century, Southeast Alaska is still emerging from the last ice age. The land is rising from the sea, and new habitat is being colonized by plants and animals. Access corridors along the coast and down river valleys enable animals like moose to colonize this new habitat. Moose moved down the Chilkat Peninsula from the Haines area and colonized the Gustavus forelands near Glacier Bay in the middle of the 20th century.

Moose from the Copper River Valley were introduced to Berners Bay about 60 miles north of Juneau in the 1950s. A small population established, and around 2010 people started seeing moose at the end of the Juneau Road System, about 40 miles north of town. Some of those animals have worked their way into drainages closer to town. In September and October of 2016, that young bull moose was seen and photographed a half a dozen times in the well-populated Mendenhall Valley north of Downtown Juneau.

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Monitoring Ticks (mp3, Transcript)

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Monitoring Ticks

After a nice afternoon dog walk in the country, a dog owner checks her pet for ticks. In many parts of the US, checking for ticks is pretty routine after a jaunt outdoors. Alaska is not known for ticks, but there are ticks in Alaska, mostly found on squirrels and hares. Researchers are monitoring Alaska's native tick species, and the recent introductions of non-native ticks. They also monitor tick-borne diseases.

The number of human cases of tick-borne disease in the United States has tripled over the past two decades, and the geographic range of many tick species has expanded substantially due to changes in climate, land use, and human and animal movement.

In 2018, researchers expanded tick monitoring in Alaska, setting up field sites at several locations in Anchorage and on the Kenai Peninsula to look for ticks; biologists are also collect ticks found on animals captured during research and management projects. Alaskans can also submit ticks they find on themselves or their pets. The ticks will be tested for pathogens that can carry diseases such as tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Lyme disease.

The information gathered will help researchers develop a model to predict where in Alaska introduced non-native ticks could survive. This will help identify high risk areas for tick monitoring, and help veterinarians and medical professionals better understand who is at risk for tick borne diseases and when to test for these diseases.

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Moose (Transcript)

Moose

Springtime in Alaska and a big bull moose is feeding on budding willows. Last fall this moose shed a rack that was five feet across and weighed about 50 pounds. Now he's sprouting the points that will become another massive set of antlers by the end of summer.

A bull moose grows a pair of antlers in just about six months, only to shed them every fall. They are the fastest-growing bone in the animal kingdom, and can grow almost an inch a day. The largest moose antlers on record were 83 inches across - almost seven feet wide - and the heaviest weighed 79 pounds. Growing a set of antlers is energetically comparable to a cow moose gestating a calf.

Nutrition is the most important factor influencing antler growth, but genetics and health also have an influence. If a moose is injured, with a broken leg for example, the antler growing on the opposite side of its body will be affected.

During the spring and summer when antlers are growing, they are covered with skin, called velvet, loaded with nerves and blood vessels that feed the rapidly growing bone. Velvet antlers are very sensitive and feel warm to the touch. A moose or elk can bolt through the trees and brush of a forest without snagging its antlers because they are well aware of just where they are - they develop this awareness when the antlers are in velvet and sensitive.

Antlers are not horns - horns are not shed. Deer, moose, elf and caribou have antlers; mountain goats and Dall sheep have horns.

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Moose Aplenty (mp3, Transcript)

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Moose aplenty

Moose are important to Alaskans. Alaskans and nonresidents harvest between 6,000 and 8,000 moose each year, about three and a half million pounds of meat.

One of the most productive regions for moose in Alaska is in the interior of the state, the area around Fairbanks and Delta Junction. About one third of all the moose harvested in Alaska come from this area.

Biologist Tom Paragi said several factors contribute to the productivity of the area - there is a very good mix of vegetation and there is very good access to the area for hunters and trappers, which keep the predator population down.

Another reason moose are doing well is because the area does not get as much snow as other parts of Alaska. This area is in the "snow shadow" of the Alaska Range. In many other areas of the state, snow is deep and persistent, which makes winter a tough time for moose.

To manage Alaska's wildlife, the department of Fish and Game has divided the state into 26 Game Management Units. These range from Unit 1 in Southeast Alaska to unit 26 at the northern extreme of the state. Some, like unit 20 near Fairbanks, are further divided into subunits.

The moose population in 20A is estimated to be about 16,000 animals, and the population objective, before hunting season, is 10,000 to 12,000 animals.

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Moose Body Heat (mp3, Transcript)

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Moose Body Heat

The cow moose was bedded down in the shade of an aspen grove, indifferent to the man crouched nearby. Wildlife biologist Dan Thompson pointed a thin pole at one nostril of the moose, taking the temperature of the animal's breath as she inhaled and exhaled the warm summer air of Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. The measurement provided insight into how moose deal with hot weather.

"Elk, mule deer and horses, they sweat, but moose don't sweat," Thompson said, explaining how moose dissipate body heat by breathing. He learned the moose was inhaling ambient air that was 68 degrees Fahrenheit and exhaling breath a second later that was 95 degrees. Taking 60 breaths a minute, the moose was pumping excess body heat back into her environment.

Thompson and his colleagues at the Kenai Moose Research Center are advancing our understanding of how moose cope with heat. Moose at the center are relatively tame and range in large fenced enclosures of forests and meadows, allowing biologists to approach and even handle them. By monitoring the moose and using tools like implanted thermometers that transmit the animal's body temperature, and infrared cameras that take pictures showing warm and hot areas of the body, biologists can see how moose respond to warmer summer temperatures, how air temperature affects their body temperature, and how they respond.

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Moose Calves (mp3)

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Moose Fighting Wolves (mp3)

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Moose Tooth Scrapes (mp3, Transcript)

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Moose Tooth Scrapes

On a summer day just outside of Fairbanks, a couple of hikers stop in an aspen grove to check out some strange scratches on a tree. About seven feet high on an aspen, a patch of bark the size of a license plate has been scraped away, revealing the brown wood beneath. Long, vertical grooves are scratched into the wood. One hiker explains how this happened - a moose did it last winter.

In late winter when food sources are lean, moose strip bark from trees like willow and aspen and eat it. Porcupines and beavers also eat tree bark. Although it's the inner bark, the cambium, that's the most nutritious part, moose eat everything they scrape. Moose scrape the bark off with their front teeth. Because moose only have lower front teeth, or incisors, they must scrape upward, digging deep scratches into the tree. In this patch of forest, the fresh scrapes from last winter show light brown wood underneath, and other trees show similar patches that have darkened to black with age.

Moose thrive on green summer vegetation like willow leaves, and nitrogen-rich plants that grow in water. In summer when fireweed is thick, a moose wouldn't even consider eating bark. They do employ a somewhat similar strategy with fireweed, running the stem through their mouth and stripping the leaves off with their teeth and tongue.

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Moose Vegetation Plots (mp3, Transcript)

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Moose vegetation plots

Late April, 2007, in Southeast Alaska, and the snow is seven feet deep along the Gilkey River north of Juneau. More than 20 feet of snow fell during the winter, and spring is coming, but it's coming slow. A helicopter delivered biologist Ryan Scott of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to this remote section of the Berners Bay watershed, and Scott is checking the habitat to see how moose fared over the winter. He's randomly sampling dozens of ten-meter-square plots of vegetation to see how moose browsed on the willow and alder during the winter.

Scott found a number of areas where moose had not touched available willow - because they simply could not get to it. Deep snow restricted moose to the riverbank, side channels and adjacent creek bottoms.

QUOTE: Moose are using the river corridor and adjacent streams and sloughs to travel. Tracks indicate little travel in the deep snow of the forest, most is right on the river. Browse moose can reach is hammered. Willow in the forest is untouched, snow is just too deep.

Scott found that it doesn't matter how much browse is available, if the snow is too deep then it doesn't do them any good.

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Moose and Buds (mp3)

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Mule Deer (Transcript)

A small group of deer steps out onto a beach near Skagway in northern Southeast Alaska. The forests of Southeast are home to Sitka Black-tailed deer, but these are not black-tails, these are mule deer - larger cousins to black-tails. Mule deer aren't native to Alaska. Black-tail deer historically inhabited coastal and western forests of the Pacific Northwest, and mule deer the mountains and arid regions of the American West. Mule deer in British Columbia and the Yukon are expanding their range north and west, and into Southeast Alaska. Fish and Game biologists are working to learn more.

In 2019, the Alaska Board of Game established regulations for mule deer, allowing them to be harvested year-round. Biologists hope that hunters who take mule deer for the venison will provide a variety of tissue samples, which will help biologists better understand the mule deer population and distribution. There is concern that the new deer could carry diseases, new parasites, and ticks, that could spread to Alaska's deer and moose.

The Fish and Game website has good information on mule deer, and Alaskans who harvest a mule deer can call Fish and Game to learn more about providing samples.

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Mule Deer (mp3, Transcript)

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Mule Deer in Alaska

On a cool morning in early May, 2017, a motorist discovered an unusual animal lying by the highway outside Fairbanks. It's dead, struck by a car. It's a mule deer, and it got a close look by the Division of Wildlife Conservation.

Mule deer are not native to Alaska, but are found in British Columbia and the Yukon. Occasional sightings have been reported in the eastern Interior since the 1970s, deer that likely immigrated from the Yukon. Alaska wildlife officials are concerned that parasites and diseases mule deer carry could spread to Alaska's moose and caribou. The moose winter tick is a major concern. The parasite is common on mule deer in the Whitehorse area, and is also found on caribou and elk in the Yukon. A heavy load of these parasites causes massive hair loss and can make winter survival much harder for infected animals. It can kill young moose.

The deer found in May was a buck in good health prior to being struck. There was no hair loss, and no evidence it was carrying ticks.

Mule deer are larger "cousins" of the Sitka black-tailed deer found in Southeast, Prince William Sound, and Kodiak. Reports of sightings in Interior Alaska have grown more frequent in recent years, suggesting their presence is part of the species' natural movement and colonization. In 2013, three were reported north of Delta Junction. In 2016, a mule deer was photographed near the Fort Knox mine, and a fawn was photographed in North Pole.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is documenting mule deer sightings in Interior Alaska, and the public is asked to report any sightings of live or dead mule deer immediately to the department or the Alaska Wildlife Troopers.

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Noisy Caribou (mp3)

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Northernmost moose (mp3, Transcript)

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Northernmost moose

Early in the evening on in mid-August of 2020, residents of Utqiaqvik saw an unusual sight - a moose. Formerly known as Barrow, Utqiaqvik is on the Beaufort Sea and is the northernmost city in the United States. On that August day, that moose was likely the northernmost moose in the world.

The Colville River drainage is home to the northernmost population of moose anywhere, and Utqiagvik is about 150 miles northwest of that. Retired Fish and Game biologist Geoff Carroll, said, about ninety-five percent of the moose in the Colville River drainage stay there, but some small percentage take off on walkabouts throughout the tundra and occasionally show up in villages.

Records document two other wayward moose: One in 2016 north of Teshekpuk Lake along the Arctic coast, and another in 2014 on the Kokolik River near Point Lay.

Tundra is not moose habitat. Generally, moose habitat would normally include riverine areas with larger patches of willows.

Increased shrub growth caused by warming temperatures in the Arctic may eventually account for more moose wandering farther north, However, a current total lack of shrubbery in Utqiagvik makes this particular incident "a very fluky fascinating thing."

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Orphaned Moose Calves (mp3, Transcript)

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Orphaned moose calves

Early summer in Southcentral Alaska, and songbirds have returned to the forests. Birds are nesting, bears have emerged from hibernation, and moose are calving.

During calving season, Alaskans see moose calves in urban and wild areas. Sometimes the calves are unattended, and some people assume they're orphaned or abandoned. But in most cases, calves do have a mother moose nearby - and the she'll soon return. Cow moose often leave their calves in a place they feel is safe while they go off to feed, water, or rest. The cow doesn't stay with the calf at all times of day, especially when calves are very young.

Every spring, Fish and Game receives calls to rescue "abandoned or orphaned" moose calves. In almost all cases, these calves do not need to be "rescued." It's important to leave these animals alone. It can be dangerous to get too close to calves. While sometimes the mother may not be in sight, she may well be nearby and can be fiercely protective. Moose are powerful animals and people have been seriously hurt and killed by defensive moose.

It is illegal for anyone to capture or possess wildlife, including moose, without a permit from Fish and Game. Don't rescue or capture a wild animal. If you have a question or concern about an animal that appears to be orphaned, call your local Fish and Game office.

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Protective mother moose (mp3, Transcript)

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Protective mother moose

On a pleasant evening in early June, the heavily wooded Eagle River Valley is peaceful. But this area - home to people and wildlife - has seen some conflicts in recent years.

In May of 2017, a mother moose sent a woman to the hospital with lacerations and broken ribs. She was walking her two leashed dogs on a wooded trail in her Eagle River neighborhood early in the evening when she surprised a moose cow with two calves. The cow attacked.

Early summer is moose calving season, a time when moose are considered their most dangerous. Biologist Dave Battle said cows with calves are notoriously testy this time of year. Newborn calves are still shaky on their feet the first few weeks after they are born, and unable to effectively flee predators. Until the calves learn to run, mama moose are likely to stand their ground in almost all circumstances.

"Any cow with calves is likely to charge if someone gets too close," he said.

Bicyclists and runners should be especially alert, as they can swiftly top hills or round corners and run into moose. Making noise to alert wildlife is always a good precaution.

If you come upon a moose calf or bear cub without its mother in view, be alert - you may have walked between them. The best course of action is usually to back away and leave from the direction you came. Don't assume young animals found alone are orphaned. Mother moose, deer and bears frequently leave their young for short periods, walk out of sight, or become separated from them by fences or roads. Sow bears often send cubs up trees to wait before leaving to find food. In nearly all cases, the mothers return to their young.

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Southeast Deer Research (mp3, Transcript)

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Southeast Deer Research

The spruce and hemlock forest of southeast Alaska's Mitkof Island was snow-free in December of 2019 when the big black-tailed deer buck bedded down amid the bare stalks of a blueberry thicket. A heavy-bodied, handsome animal, his antlers spread well beyond and above his ears, which were up and cocked forward, perhaps in response to the motion-triggered trail camera that had just taken his picture.

Fish and Game deer biologist Dan Eacker has deployed an array of 64 such cameras in the forest near Petersburg, part of a research project to better understand deer abundance in the area. It's difficult to assess numbers of animals like deer in the dense temperate rainforest, and Eacker is using a variety of tools to develop a reliable method that can be used throughout the region. Game cameras have yielded thousands of pictures. Eacker is also collecting deer pellets, which provide DNA samples, and in the winter of 2020 he will equip 20 deer with GPS tracking collars to better understand their movements through these low elevation rainforests over a two year period. Research so far indicates there are about 4600 deer in this area of Mitkof Island. That's an average of 9.5 deer per square kilometer or 24 deer per square mile.

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Tame Moose-Wild Moose (mp3)

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Winter Tick (mp3, Transcript)

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Winter tick - mule deer host

On a fall evening outside Fairbanks, a deer is standing beside a highway. Interior Alaska is not known for deer, and this animal has not been in the state very long. It's a mule deer. Mule deer are not native to Alaska, but in recent years they have pushed their range further north and west into the Yukon and Eastern Alaska. A mule deer was hit by a car and killed near Fairbanks in 2017, and mule deer have been photographed and documented at other locations in eastern areas of the state.

One issue with these newcomers is that some are carrying ticks - a species of tick that biologists do not want to see in the state called the winter tick. The winter tick is native to areas like Alberta, Canada, but it's moving north as the environment is warming.

Almost half of the mule deer surveyed in the Yukon had the winter tick. Those deer are now coming in to Alaska, and they could infect our moose population. This tick is a serious parasite that can stress and kill the host. Moose calves are especially vulnerable. The ticks cause the moose to itch and scratch, and lose substantial amounts of hair. A moose can have tens of thousands of ticks and experience significant blood loss. Blood loss, heat loss, spending more time scratching than foraging, combined with the hardships that moose experience in winter, can take a lethal toll, killing moose in mid-winter, hence the name winter tick.

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Woodland Caribou (mp3)

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