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Living with Wildlife in Anchorage:
A Cooperative Planning Effort

Chapter 4: Wildlife in Anchorage, 1999

This chapter describes the state of Anchorage's wildlife in 1999. It begins with a list of wildlife issues, and describes prominent city wildlife species, including estimated and preferred population levels (standards). The chapter also provides information about residents' general attitudes toward wildlife. It concludes with a section on wildlife conflict statistics and standards that define acceptable levels of conflict.

Wildlife issues and concerns
A summary of Anchorage's wildlife
General values and attitudes toward Anchorage wildlife
Wildlife conflict statistics and standards

Wildlife Issues and Concerns

The following list summarizes issues and concerns developed by the planning team with input from the public. The items are meant to be evocative of the issues discussed at meetings, not exhaustive or comprehensive. They are organized within categories that roughly correspond to plan goals and objectives (see Chapter 3).

Habitat and Population Level Issues

  • Habitat fragmentation and loss due to increasing development
  • Impacts (disturbance) to species from increasing human use on public land
  • Loss of wetlands and wildlife corridors
  • Wildlife habitat concerns that do not become integrated into land use decision-making (e.g., zoning, road improvement landscaping choices)
  • Current development trends that favor exotic species (pigeons, starlings, etc.)
  • Loss of critical habitat for some species (loons, cranes, other wetland species, etc.)
  • Lack of wildlife-related inventory data (population trends, biological carrying capacity estimates, etc.)

[wildlife habitat losses] As the human population and development in Anchorage increases, many people are concerned about wildlife habitat losses.

Wildlife Recreation and Learning Issues

  • High interest in and demand for viewing opportunities by residents and visitors
  • Need for more wildlife education (facilities and interpretation services and materials)
  • Demand for increased Anchorage hunting opportunities

[wildlife viewing] Wildlife-oriented recreation is increasingly popular for residents and visitors.

Wildlife Conflict Prevention and Response Issues

  • Lack of information about human/wildlife conflicts (When, where, why, how many, what kind?)
  • Concern about the number of moose-vehicle accidents
  • Concern about the number of aggressive moose encounters in neighborhoods and on trails
  • Concern about the extent of landscaping damage by moose
  • Concern about the number of and potential for bear-human encounters on area trails and in neighborhoods
  • Increasing attraction behavior by bears in response to garbage, dog food, and birdseed around homes.
  • Goose-aircraft accident risk
  • Concern about the amount of goose droppings in parks, ball fields, lakes and on lawns
  • Liability concerns regarding human/wildlife conflicts
  • Agency responsibilities and jurisdictions for responding to wildlife-human conflicts
  • Educating residents (especially new residents) on appropriate behavior around wildlife
  • Lack of coordinated government/organizational programs to reduce wildlife conflicts
  • Lack of training of public safety officials to deal with wildlife conflicts
  • Conflicts between domestic animals/pets and wildlife
  • Concern about landscaping that attracts wildlife and exacerbates conflicts (at schools, along roads)
  • Concern that salmon fishery development may be attracting bears into the city
  • Concern about other conflict problems: pigeons, gulls, beaver, coyotes, wolves, etc.

[wildlife conflicts] Wildlife conflicts are an important issue in Anchorage. For example, bears that become attracted to garbage, pet food and birdseed can become public safety hazards.

Other Issues

  • Need to promote the benefits of wildlife in the city
  • Lack of recognition of wildlife benefits within some government agencies
  • Need to integrate wildlife agency decision-making among multiple agencies at local, state, and federal level

A Summary of Anchorage's Wildlife

This section describes the state of Anchorage's wildlife by species or group. For each major species or group, we attempt to provide population estimates and trends, as well as short descriptions of preferred habitat and management issues. When available, citations and sources for the information in this section are provided. In most cases, however, information is based on current (1999) professional judgments of biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. This information is not necessarily definitive, and is offered to provide readers with a general view of the wildlife situation in Anchorage. Actions in this plan are designed to address the lack of more comprehensive information for several species in the future.

This section also suggests population goals for several species, in an attempt to identify those that need to be enhanced or reduced. Establishing a population goal that is lower than current levels, however, does not necessitate any particular action. These population goals simply highlight the potential for increased wildlife conflicts or biological capacity problems. Additional discussion of population management policies and actions is given in Chapter 5.

Throughout this section, the “Anchorage area” refers to the entire Municipality from Knik River to Portage, including Chugach State Park. In contrast, the “Anchorage Bowl” refers to the land from the Chugach foothills to Cook Inlet, and from Potter Marsh to the military bases; it does not include Fort Richardson, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Chugach State Park, Eagle River/Chugiak/Peters Creek, or Turnagain Arm communities.

Readers should also note that fish and other aquatic species are not included within the scope of this plan (see Chapter One, Plan Limitations).

General Biodiversity. Overall, the Anchorage area supports 52 species of mammals, and at least 230 bird species (with about 150 bird species likely to be regular visitors or year-round residents) (Scher, 1993). That's about half of the bird species recorded in the whole state. Anchorage has one native amphibian species (the wood frog), and no reptiles. There are also a myriad of insect species and other invertebrates, few of which have been studied specifically in Anchorage.

Black Bears. An estimated 250 black bears live in the Anchorage area (between the Knik River and Portage), including Chugach State Park. Perhaps one-third of these bears spend at least part of the summer in or adjacent to residential areas in the Anchorage Bowl, Eagle River/Chugiak, or Girdwood. Black bears in Anchorage prefer forested habitat, including steam corridors. Judging by the number of cubs, the black bear population is probably increasing; this is further supported by the number of calls to ADF&G from residents, which have sharply increased in recent years. Black bears can easily become attracted to human food sources such as trash, pet food, and birdseed, making them potentially dangerous to humans and their pets or livestock (some Anchorage residents have rabbits, chickens, or other small livestock).

Brown Bears. About 60 brown bears live in the Anchorage area, and four or five are regularly seen in residential areas each summer (e.g., in the Anchorage Bowl or other developed areas such as Eagle River/Chugiak or Girdwood). However, subdivisions are expanding rapidly into bear habitat adjacent to Chugach State Park, particularly in Eagle River, along Hiland Road, and on the Hillside. Large lots and dense natural vegetation allow bears to use these subdivisions without being seen. Brown bears are generally likely to avoid humans and human environments, but can also learn to associate food opportunities (trash, fish offal, or small livestock) with people. They are also occasionally attracted to the Anchorage Bowl by winter-killed moose, abundant moose calves in spring, and spawning salmon in streams. Because of their size and potential aggressiveness, brown bear use of residential areas presents a definite human safety risk.

[brown bear] About 60 brown bears live in the Anchorage area, but only about five inhabit residential areas.

The number of both black and brown bears in the Anchorage area has increased in the last three decades, due to hunting restrictions and availability of human food sources. Black bear hunting was eliminated in the Eagle River valley, in the Anchorage Bowl (south of Tudor Road), and in adjacent portions of Chugach State Park in 1987. Black bear hunting in the rest of the Municipality allows only one black bear per hunter per year. Brown bear hunting has been prohibited in Chugach State Park and the Anchorage Bowl since 1973.

Moose. The moose population in and around Anchorage has remained high since the 1970s, with about 1,900 animals in the entire Municipality (including Chugach State Park) in 1998. In the Anchorage Bowl, moose are also abundant, with approximately 200-300 in the area year-round, and about 700-1,000 moose in the winter. The winter moose come from adjacent areas (Fort Richardson, Elmendorf Air Force Base, and the mountains east of town in Chugach State Park). In Anchorage, moose are concentrated in area parks, greenways and undeveloped open space, but may frequently visit suburban neighborhoods.

The Anchorage moose population is controlled primarily through starvation, vehicle collisions, some calf predation from bears and wolves, and limited hunts on the two military reservations. Despite this, moose populations appear to be rising again to the peak levels that were experienced in 1994. At that time, there were an estimated 2,100 moose in the Anchorage area and probably over 1,000 wintering moose in the Anchorage Bowl. This was followed by a sharp decline during the harsh winter of 1994-1995, when nearly a third died. In recent years, habitat in many areas also appears to have been over-browsed, particularly on Fort Richardson and in the Anchorage Bowl. From 1994 to 1999, an average of about 156 moose were killed in vehicle collisions in the entire Anchorage area each year, with the high year being 1994-95 (when there were 239 documented kills by collisions). About 100 moose are harvested annually in local hunts, most of which occur on the military reservations.

[moose] Moose are very common in Anchorage, with winter populations in the Anchorage Bowl approaching 1,000. They provide superlative viewing opportunities, but also create the potential for conflicts.

Moose are symbolically linked with Anchorage (the town mascot used by the Convention and Visitor's Bureau is a moose named “Seymour”), and they provide residents and visitors with exceptional viewing opportunities, especially in winter. However, they are also a hazard to drivers during the winter, and individual moose can become aggressive when under stress or protecting their young or territory. Certain human behaviors toward moose (e.g., people who feed them, individuals who harass them with snowballs) can exacerbate human-moose interactions, with damaging results. People have been stomped to death by moose in Anchorage (in 1993 and 1995), as many as 50 to 100 dogs are injured (some killed) annually, and cross country skiers and dog mushing teams using city trails have been charged on numerous occasions. There is concern among some trail users (particularly dog mushers) that moose are becoming more aggressive toward humans in the past decade. ADF&G has to destroy some individual aggressive moose each year.

Dall Sheep. Sheep are numerous in Chugach State Park (which has an estimated population of 2,400), and dozens of sheep can be seen on the hillsides above the Anchorage Bowl. Sheep generally live in the steep, rocky alpine terrain of the Chug

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