MAT-SU — Moose throughout Southcentral Alaska will be a little more on their own this year as the Alaska Moose Federation regroups following a 2013 legislative session that saw the nonprofit wildlife organization shutout of state funding.
With lawmakers tasked to cut about $1 billion in state expenditures, Alaska Moose Federation executive director Gary Olson said it wasn’t a shock that the group didn’t get the $2.2 million it requested.
“It was not surprising this year,” he said. “We heard very early on that (the budget) would be about $1 billion less in legislative funding this year, and we thought we would not make the cut. We aren’t in the budget this year and did not anticipate we would be funded.”
That didn’t stop AMF from being hopeful, Olson said. The group asked for $400,000 to continue and expand scientific testing with its winter moose salvage program, $1.5 million for habitat enhancement and $300,000 for its orphan calf program.
“That request was a place-holding to continue on the program,” Olson said of the orphan calf request.
The orphan calf program, which proposes to relocate calves orphaned when adult moose are killed by vehicles on roadways, is one of the organization’s most controversial programs. Although the moose salvage program has been embraced by Alaska State Troopers and Anchorage Police Department, retrieving more than 600 road-killed moose over the past two winters, the moose federation overall doesn’t enjoy universal support from some lawmakers, including Valley representatives.
Rep. Bill Stoltze is co-chair of the House Finance Committee and said funding for AMF didn’t come up this past session.
“In the past, that funding has usually come over from the Senate side,” he said. “For the last several appropriations, it’s come over from the Senate.”
Even so, had AMF funding come up this past session, Stoltze said he would have been skeptical to approve it.
“I’ve never been a real big advocate of the moose federation,” he said. “I think they do a couple of things that are worthwhile, but I’ve never been a big fan of them. … I think they need oversight and the overall mission, I’m not sure about that.”
Having received millions in appropriations from previous Legislatures, Stoltze said he’s not clear whether that money has been put to the best use. He calls the road kill recovery “the most justified” of the federation’s initiatives, “but I’m not sure they needed a fleet of brand new trucks to do that. I’m not one of their cheerleaders.”
That Alaska Moose Federation has its critics is par for the course, Olson said. And despite a lean 2013, he said previous earmarks have paid off for the safety of motorists and moose. He said the lack of state funding this year also does not mean AMF will suspend its efforts.
“This means we are doubling our efforts,” he said about finding alternative sources of funding. “The salvage program is the mainstay of the organization. It’s not going anywhere.”
Previous state monies have allowed AMF to purchase 13 salvage trucks, which means replacing vehicles isn’t something that will need to be done for a while, he said. Still, the cost to operate the salvage program this next winter can run anywhere from $180,000 to $250,000, depending on how many moose are killed.
Also, aside from a paid volunteer coordinator, the 40-some people who respond to moose-vehicle accidents are volunteers.
Without the $400,000 asked for this year, the program will be on a shoestring, Olson said, and some other scientific testing like taking DNA samples from the moose may have to wait.
“We’re going to be doing lots of spaghetti feeds and pancake feeds and raffles,” he said. “We’re also giving a lot of exposure to the motorcyclists that are the most vulnerable to moose collisions.”
Of the four Valley fatalities attributed to moose-vehicle collisions this past winter, three involved motorcycles, he said.
Also, Olson said the federation is seeing some increased support from area businesses and industry. Federal funding also will be sought, he said.
Overall, the financial health of the Alaska Moose Federation is evolving, Olson said.
“We’ve been using these grants to build a capacity for a statewide program,” he said. “We’re going to continue to go after private partners. You’ll see us at Sportsman’s Warehouse and other places selling raffle tickets. We cannot lose this salvage program.”
If the federation expects to find funding from the state moving forward, it may need to show more concrete results from its orphan calf and diversionary feeding programs, said Rep. Eric Feige, who co-chars the House Resources Committee.
“Carting the animals off the highway is a reasonable service,” he said. “According to the briefing I got a couple years ago, having them around helped free up an APD officer or a state trooper and a scene would get cleaned up faster. As far as the rest, I’m not exactly sure what impact they’ve had and what their processes are.”
In many cases, state funds are used to get an organization or program up and running, and it becomes more self-sufficient from there, Feige said.
“No one should depend on the state forever,” he said. “A lot of times, we use state funds to get organizations up and running, but those organizations should never depend completely forever on state funding.”
Wayne Regelin is a former deputy director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation under the umbrella of the Department of Fish and Game. Although now retired, he’s been critic of some of AMF’s programs.
“Part of what they do is fine, and part of it I think is foolishness,” he said. “I think (the salvage program) is working. It costs an awful lot of money and it used to be done for free, but I know the troopers like it. You went from a program that was free or all-volunteer to one that’s pretty expensive per moose.”
Olson said he understands lawmakers wanting to see some accountability, but bristles at input from critics like Regelin.
“Some of them had a career working for Fish and Game and didn’t work on many solutions when they were there,” he said. “I wish they had put the same amount of effort into seeking solutions rather than sitting back and saying ‘that’s dumb’ or ‘that’s dumb.’ I’m not surprised, though. That’s par for the course for some people.”
Contact reporter Greg Johnson at email@example.com or 352-2269.