MAT-SU - Deep snows and blizzard-like conditions have combined to create a "moose emergency" in Southcentral.
The group tasked with recovering moose hit by vehicles on local roads, Alaska Moose Federation, was rolling almost non-stop Thursday and Friday, responding to at least 15 collisions in 20 hours.
"We had one truck with two moose on it," AMF Executive Director Gary Olson said. "Literally, a bull was hit in Eagle River on a curve, then a cow was hit by another car. They were (loaded) on the truck and we delivered them to a local church."
Just a week after taking over as the point organization for retrieving moose hit by vehicles in the Valley, the federation's five Mat-Su-based trucks have been busy, Olson said. Along with two trucks serving the Anchorage area, the group's volunteers were running ragged between Talkeetna and Eagle River.
"We have a blizzard going on in Anchorage right now, and this is the emergency situation we were worried about," Olson said early Friday afternoon. "These moose are absolutely all over the roads."
An average winter sees Alaska State Troopers respond to about 270 moose-vehicle collisions, while so far this year at least 336 have been hit in the Valley, according to AMF and state Department of Fish and Game reports. That tally is most likely more, said acting area game manager Tim Peltier, but an updated count was not complete by press time.
Troopers have a set list of charities and organizations that receive road kill moose. AMF's role is as intermediary, Olson said. Instead of each individual charity picking up the carcasses, federation volunteers retrieve and deliver them to the charities on the troopers' list.
And those volunteers have been tested so far, Olson said.
"They're rock stars," he said. "We have one guy, every time he lays his head down he gets another call. We're shifting volunteers and running around like crazy. There is a crisis going on and we need to make sure everyone is aware of how bad this is."
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Chugiak received the two moose Olson cited from that one incident, said Jim Sampson, a church member and volunteer. As one of the troopers' recognized charities, the church used to have to respond itself to recover moose.
Having AMF deliver the animals saves time and makes it easier for the church to process them, he said, adding the meat goes to the local community food bank.
"This is ideal," he said. "We've been doing this for quite a few years and you can imagine what it's like at 2 in the morning in a driving snowstorm trying to (recover) a moose. To have them pick them up and bring them here is great. The safety factor increases all-around."
Improved safety and recovery times are what makes the retrieval program attractive to AST, said Lt. Tom Dunn, who acts as liaison between the troopers and AMF.
"The theory behind the AMF is definitely sound," he said. "We now have one organization that's qualified to respond and take the moose to where it can be processed safely, without any other injury occurring."
At an average estimated cost of about $35,000 in vehicle damage and response cost per moose collision, Olson said the past 24 hours alone have cost drivers and responding agencies about $500,000.
"A couple of those in Willow were from the railroad corridor, but even 13 vehicle collisions is bad, and it's not going to get better," Olson said.
He urges drivers to be extra cautions and make sure their windows are clear and field of view unimpeded.
"These moose are on the roads, and looking at the snow we're getting right now, there's going to be more," he said.
Contact reporter Greg Johnson at email@example.com or 352-2269.