Reading the CNN report about the drought in, what we Alaskans call, the South 48, seemed a bit surreal. Summer here was almost non-existent. South Central Alaska has been cool and rainy all season. In fact, July 2012, was reported to be the 4th coldest July on record. This has an adverse affect on the local crops. Many of cold weather vegetables, such as cabbage, peas, cauliflower and others, are behind schedule in ripening. CNN and other news agencies make the point of saying that the drought will affect food prices. In Alaska, not having locally grown produce is affecting our food prices, now. When the stores cannot procure local vegetables, they have produce shipped in, which causes higher prices to Alaskans. Plus, we will have to pay more for food being affected by the drought.
CNN’s report, also, gave insight to what was happening to wildlife. Deer carcasses are being found near watering places. They are subject to hemorrhagic fever brought on by gnats that thrive in drought conditions. Add that to the problem of less to eat, the deer are indeed dying from the extreme temperatures. That isn’t taking into account other wildlife such as birds and smaller animals.
In Alaska, our moose population was affected by a somewhat harsh winter. South Central Alaska had record breaking snowfalls. Anchorage received approximately 11 feet. Here in the Valley, snow fall varied, but not by much. Deep snow makes for difficult driving conditions, let alone walking. Moose average from 4 ½ feet to 7 foot tall. Even though snow settles, moose, especially calves, had a particularly hard time moving around. They will use the path of least resistance which includes roads, highways, or the railroad tracks. As one can imagine, moose on the road are not only a danger to themselves but to drivers as well. To give an idea at the scale of the problem, approximately 200 moose were killed in rail collisions in the period of July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012. In the same time period approximately 450 moose died being struck by vehicles. This is only in the Matanuska-SustinaValley Game Management areas of 14A and 14B. These numbers were higher than the last 10 year average due to the severe winter of 2011-2012. This does not include areas around Anchorage, or the Kenai Peninsula. However, they had high moose motality, too.
Heavy snows last winter contributed to moose die off as well. An average moose will eat on average of 70 pounds of food a day. Their diet consists, mostly, of new growth on deciduous trees, such as willow, birch, and aspen. Moose will eat other kinds of bushes. They have been known to prune back lilac trees, China tea rose bushes and the like. In the winter of 2011-2012, at least 120 moose died because of these conditions. It is a good guess, that if all the moose that were found dead in the woods, calves that were still borne or aborted because the cow moose did not have adequate food supplies, were reported, that number would be much higher. This figure only reflects Game Management Units 14A and 14B
Winter was hard on other wildlife as well. There is little information on how smaller animals fared. It is a safe assumption; they did not do very well, either. Let us hope that seasons coming up are little less rough on humans and wildlife.
I would like to thank Mr. Olin Albertson, Wildlife Biologist, Alaska Fish and Game, in the Matanuska Valley for all his help and moose information.
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