KENAI, Alaska (AP) – A Department of Fish and Game study of moose calf mortality in a Kenai Peninsula game unit concludes that 83 percent of the animals died and grizzly bears killed many of them.
A second high source of moose calf death was more surprising – researchers who frightened cow moose into abandoning their calves.
The Peninsula Clarion reports the study in Game Management Unit 15C, covering an area south of Tustumena Lake and west of the Kenai Fjords National Park, began in February. It was part of an ongoing look at moose populations there and in Game Management Unit 15A.
The Alaska Board of Game has targeted both for “intensive management,” the killing of predators.
“When you’re looking at populations, one of the most important things you can look at is how many animals are coming in and how many are going out,” Jeff Selinger, Fish and Game Kenai area wildlife biologist, said.
Researchers put radio collars on 54 moose calves and determined that 45 died.
Grizzly bears killed 19 calves, or 35 percent of the animals collared, according to the study.
Seven animals, or 13 percent, died after receiving a collar and being abandoned by their mothers.
The study determined that black bears killed two calves, an undetermined bear species killed five calves, wolves or coyotes killed one and an unknown predator killed three.
The study attributed the death of one calf to disease, three to drowning and four to unknown causes.
Principal investigator Thomas McDonough, a Fish and Game Department research biologist, said the numbers could change after additional analysis of kill-site evidence. The “bottom line,” Selinger said, is that bears killed most of the moose calves in their first six weeks of life.
Most moose populations in Alaska lose about half their calves in the animals’ first three to six weeks of life, Selinger said, but mortality in 15C was high.
Selinger and McDonough said they knew before the study that bears would account for most deaths. Predators, McDonough said, are a major limiting factor on moose populations. He and Selinger said it’s not known whether predators are the main factor.
“You need to do this for several years to see if there’s a pattern,” Selinger said. “We just finished a record snow level on the Kenai last year. That may play into these statistics. Maybe this’ll be what we see on annual basis, but we cannot come out and say this is the norm.”
Critics of predator control said earlier this year the loss of moose habitat due to 60 years of wildfire suppression is a major factor in the current moose population.