Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
February 2006

Anchorage Hillside Hunt a Success

By Bruce Bartley and Rick Sinnott
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The fall of 2005 marked the first time in more than 20 years that limited moose hunting opened in a portion of Chugach State Park adjacent to Anchorage’s Hillside.

On Oct. 20, for the first time in more than 20 years, a moose hunting season opened in a portion of Chugach State Park adjacent to Anchorage’s Hillside.

The hunt was the culmination of a protracted journey back from a controversial archery registration hunt in 1983. That hunt left at least one moose wandering neighborhoods with an arrow sticking out and one hunter butchering a moose in someone’s driveway.

For decades, Anchorage has been home to far more moose than the habitat can support. In summer, 200 to 300 moose inhabit the Anchorage Bowl. During deep snow winters, up to 700 additional moose descend from the surrounding mountains where they find plowed streets and mountain ash trees much more inviting than huge drifts and ravenous wolves.

In a city of 250,000 people, moose hunting has been greatly prescribed. There are hunts on Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson, but they come nowhere near to controlling the moose population in Anchorage and Eagle River.

The only real limiting factors for moose in the Anchorage area are vehicles and habitat. Each year an average of more than 150 moose are killed on Anchorage streets. And during deep snow winters, hundreds more die of starvation and disease.

Nearly a decade ago, hunters began a push to resume moose hunting in parts of Anchorage where it could be done safely. After the controversial 1983 hunt, most archers wanted nothing to do with it. But muzzleloaders and shotgun hunters kept up the pressure.

The most logical place to conduct a hunt was on upper Campbell Creek, as close to a wilderness area as you can find next to a quarter of a million people. The only problem was that the area is contained within Chugach State Park. And the park has a regulation prohibiting the discharge of firearms near that heavily used portion of the park.

After several Board of Game cycles during which critics offered dire predictions about all the terrible things that could happen, the Board finally authorized a hunt in upper Campbell Creek. But the park refused to change its regulations. The hunt languished on the books for several years until Anchorage area biologist Rick Sinnott crafted a careful plan to meet most of the objections, and park officials finally relented.

Only four permits were issued. Hunters could use muzzleloaders or shotguns and each had to demonstrate shooting proficiency. All of them passed easily.

Hunting was allowed only on weekdays to avoid conflict with most park users. The hunt area was well defined with easily identifiable boundaries. The hunt area was more than one-half mile from the nearest house, with a ridge obscuring the hunt area from the houses.

Hunters were instructed to drag the viscera, hide and other unsalvageable portions at least 100 yards from the nearest trail to avoid attracting bears to the trails. There were grizzly bears in the area, despite it being late October. And at one point, some critics were claiming a bear was feeding on one of the gut piles. Further investigation revealed the bear had killed the moose it was feeding on. Next season, the hunt probably will be pushed back later to try to ensure bears are in their dens before the hunt begins.

The plan is to issue four permits again next year. If things go as smoothly as this year, the number can be increased in future years.

Clearly this small hunt in just one portion of the municipality will not reduce moose numbers to where they need to be. But it’s a start, and it demonstrates that such hunts are feasible.

Bruce Bartley is an information officer for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, based in Anchorage. Rick Sinnott is the Anchorage Area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

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