• Alaska Moose Federation purchased Kenai Peninsula trucks dedicated to salvaging moose kill for charities
By Jenny Neyman
When the phone rings in the middle of the night, the reason for the call often is as jarring a disturbance as the shrill sound of the ringer. Especially when the voice on the other end is a dispatcher from the Alaska State Troopers, and they’re calling because a death has occurred.
That scene plays out for 600 or more Alaskans a year — a couple hundred on the Kenai Peninsula, alone. In the best cases of that scenario, no people are injured and the only death involved is that of a moose, killed as a result of a collision with a motor vehicle.
When an unfortunate ungulate meets its end, the moose salvage program exists as a lemons-to-lemonade way to keep that meat from going to waste. Troopers maintain a list of applied-and-approved recipients — food banks, churches, families with limited financial means, etc. — who are called to harvest the animal. But even though salvaging meat that otherwise would go to waste is a sweet dose of lemonade, the process of getting the moose meat to a freezer can be a sour one.
Most collisions occur in the dark, so the call can come in the middle of the night or during the cold, extended darkness of winter. The recipient must get to the scene immediately, then butcher and/or haul off the moose themselves, even if it’s 2 a.m., 20 below and alongside a dark stretch of icy highway.
Starting this year, though, the road-kill harvest process in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna area, Fairbanks and, most recently, the Kenai Peninsula, has gotten sweeter for recipients, thanks to a partnership with the Alaska Moose Federation. Now when the call about a moose road-kill comes, it isn’t saying, “Come get your moose,” it’s asking, “Where do you want your moose?” as federation volunteers now pick up and drop off the moose for recipients.
Think pizza delivery, Alaska style.
“What they’re telling me is they appreciate the fact that they can almost stay in their jammies. They like the fact that I’m bringing the moose to them because if they’ve got things to do to get ready for it, at least they know that moose is coming in. It gives them that extra time to prepare for when I arrive, then it’s onto a tarp or winched into an overhang or wherever they want it,” said Laurie Speakman, who lives off Kalifornsky Beach Road near Soldotna, a volunteer for the federation’s moose salvage delivery program on the peninsula.
The pilot program started in Anchorage, then the federation got $700,000 in funding from the state to expand to the Mat-Su in January, Fairbanks in March and the peninsula in April. The money pays for 13 flatbed trucks equipped with a winch and safety lights — five in Mat-Su, two in Anchorage, two in Fairbanks and four on the peninsula — plus maintenance and insurance, Executive Director Gary Olson of the Alaska Moose Federation said. One federation staff person manages the program, and moose pickup and delivery is done by unpaid volunteers. Now the volunteers are the ones getting the call at all hours of the day or night.
“Sometimes you gotta swing your boots out at 2 a.m., and those volunteers are just amazing,” Olson said.
When a moose kill is reported, troopers call the federation, which contacts an on-call volunteer driver in that region. The drivers hop in their truck, get to the site, winch the moose into the truck and strap it down for transport. The driver is put in touch with the next recipient on the salvage list, whom they call to get directions for the moose delivery. There’s some information about the kill to be recorded — where, when, what — and paperwork to be signed by the recipient, and the driver is timed for their response to the scene, time at the scene and time to get the moose delivered.
Butchering and disposal of the moose still is entirely up to the recipient, and troopers still manage the recipient list.
Olson said that many of the salvage volunteers are outdoorsmen and women who want to help conserve wild game populations as much as they want opportunities to harvest them. Statewide, the biggest pool of volunteers are employees of the Sportsman’s Warehouse chain of retailers, Olson said. On the Kenai Peninsula, volunteers come mostly from the Kenai Peninsula chapter of Safari Club International. Mike Crawford, president of the local SCI club, and board member Tom Netschert signed on as volunteers for the salvage program when it expanded to the peninsula this spring. But both ended up being busier than expected this summer, so Speakman, Netschert’s daughter, took over handling most the calls.
More important than the convenience factor for recipients, though, the delivery service is intended to represent an increase in safety, which is primarily what prompted troopers and the Alaska Department of Transportation — which oversees the salvage program — to allow the federation’s involvement in the first place.
“The theory behind it was it would be the safest way to do it, versus a charity (harvesting a moose at the scene of a collision). We have had no injuries with charities, but I know for a fact — for myself, from a patrol perspective — where they’ve definitely been in unsafe positions. And it was by the grace of God they weren’t hit,” said Lt. Tom Dunn, trooper liaison for the moose salvage program.
“From what law enforcement has told us, there have been a number of different situations that occurred that we knew we could do a better job. One was two grandmothers that came out in the middle of a blizzard on a weekend and learned how to butcher a moose for nine hours on the fast lane of the New Seward Highway. And this was with (Anchorage Police Department) covering them the whole time. There are charities out there that do a really good job of picking those moose up. But the next charity might be that grandma in the middle of the night,” Olson said.
Olson said that the Anchorage Police Department verified an average time savings of about 2.5 hours when federation volunteers clear a moose road kill, as opposed to a charity recipient doing it.
For information or to volunteer for the salvage program, call 336-MOOSE (336-6673).
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