19 April 2017 6.00 PM 51 F Sunny
Alaska is a great place to live. There are no snakes, no biting creepy crawlies – well excluding the one wee spider that isn’t even supposed to be that bad, no need to check your boots before you put them on in case some sneaky scorpion has decided to have a nap in there, and no need to send an armed patrol into the bathroom to check the toilet for venomous reptiles lying in wait.
We do of course have some natural pests, namely the mosquito. But, as it’s late April and we haven’t actually seen any yet, it’s easy to forget just how fierce they can be. We are also a little less intimidated by them after a few summers of zapping the area with our Skeeter Vacs – we may not have reduced the overall State population by that much, but we’ve certainly decimated the ones around our kennel – and that’s what’s important !
The other animal hazards tend to be of the big variety. Moose and bear. Happily, we’ve not had many dealings with Yogi and his kin, bar one, a couple of years ago, that took a late evening stroll down the drive, past the front of the house and then ambled off into the trees. Moose however are a very different ball game. For a start, they are either mean or stupid – or stupid and mean. In the winter, they constantly seem to want to play chicken with cars on the Highway. If they’re not doing that, they’re standing in the middle of the dog trail refusing to budge despite a variety of entreaties suggesting that they really should be elsewhere.
This winter, we’ve been delighted to have had pretty decent snowfall. This has made the trails a delight to be on, it has also made life for the moose a bit more difficult than in the past couple of winters where the low snow made it much easier for them to travel and graze on the trees and shrubs they like to eat. With deep snow everywhere, the moose really don’t want to get off the hardpacked groomed trails – they also find it harder to get enough to eat. This makes them even meaner and more ornery. The State Fish & Wildlife Department actually came out early this Spring and said the moose were especially grumpy and that people should be aware that getting between them and wherever they wanted to be was not a good idea. Given the size of them, it’s probably not a good idea at any time !
As you may recall, this area was devastated by the Sockeye wild fire in June 2015. A large swathe of the countryside was burnt and has just started to recover. Due to the nature and structure of willows, they are remarkably resilient and had already grown several feet since the fire. Moose like willows. Moose LOVE young willow shoots that are still succulent and juicy. Moose seem to have realised that we have a lot of said willows on our land. By February, in the depths of winter, we were having a moose or two visit every day to graze on the new growth. Of course, they started on the outer edge of the parcel and slowly worked their way closer to the house and dogyard. Of itself, that doesn’t seem to be so bad, however, it has to be said, the dogs really don’t like moose. To be fair, the moose aren’t all that impressed by the dogs either – however they seem to have figured out that dogs on tethers, behind a fence are not an issue. the dogs on the other hand are very vocal about their dislike of the situation. What makes this even worse, is that it usually seems to occur at 3 in the morning. There is a particular bark that as soon as you hear it, you know exactly what is going on.
As there are so many mushers in Willow, all going through this same issue, a lot of thought and discussion has gone into ways to mitigate the moose problem. Our friends who live just the other side of the Highway, explain one of the methods they’ve had success with here. Without spoiling the read, we tried that and had mixed results. maybe I’ve just not got enough crazy in me.
Our biggest fright came one afternoon, when Ciara, our blind Siberian, could be seen scenting a moose that was wandering about. Ciara, obviously had no idea what this thing was that she could smell, but it was apparent that she didn’t like it and she proceeded to issue some kind of canine/moose challenge – which unhappily the moose accepted. Ciara weighs about 35 pounds and the moose must have been around 600 pounds – and all that was saving Ciara (or stopping her, in her mind) was a chainlink fence. When moose get mad, their ears flatten, their nostrils flare and they start stomping the ground with their front hooves. As we dashed/floundered through the snow to rescue Ciara, the checklist went, ears – yes flat. Nostrils, – yes, definitely flaring. Stomping – oh heck yes. If we weren’t so concerned about Ciara ( and the fence), it would have been quite the sight to see this little blind black dog squaring off against something quite so large and mean. Fortunately, once we got a hold of Ciara and dragged her away from the fence and into the safety of the house, the moose gave a few more stomps for good measure before getting back to eating.
With the onset of Spring, and the snows starting to melt, we have seen a reduction in the numbers of moose visiting – something we are truly grateful for. And whilst technically, moose are members of the deer family, they are a long way from the lovable Bambi.