Alaska:


PO Box 15004, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5004
Phone: (928) 523-9555
Fax: (928) 523-1266
itep@nau.edu

Alaska Region

Athabascan: Moose

Many rural Alaskans depend on moose meat for sustenance. Before the government enacted hunting regulations, a family could hunt a moose when the freezer was empty and share it with the community. Today this is not the case. The restriction on hunting and the ecological changes in the environment due to climate change impact traditional ways of life practiced by the people of interior Alaska.

Finding a moose is harder today, requiring hunters to stay out longer. Traditional hunting locations are less predictable, due in part to climate-related changes in the environment. Another reason for the apparent scarcity of moose includes higher predation (by humans, bears, and wolves), possibly the result in a reduction in trapping practices by rural residents.

Previously unusual conditions in moose are becoming more common. Unhealthy moose in the interior are found more frequently, including those with parasite infestations, worms in the guts, puss in the muscles, and brittle bones. Moose are not growing as large as before; for example, a bull moose used to have 50+ inch antlers, but now moose of the same age might average 45-inch antlers. Further, calves are born later in the season, and in general many seasonal events come later, including fishing and freeze-up.

The warming climate also impacts hunting strategies. Warmer moose-hunting seasons create urgency when butchering and packing up a moose, as the meat begins to rot more quickly. Warmer weather prevents hunters from going out, creating a shorter hunting season.

Failing to get a moose can be emotionally challenge for some individuals. When 'failure' happens, such as not getting a moose before the end of the official hunting season, they may become grief-stricken. This sense of failure and sadness can be partly alleviated through the generous sharing of moose meat by others. Thus, a new form of bond might be developing in part as a result of new demands brought on by climate change.



Reasons for not finding a moose


Adaptation


"Everything is Drying Up" - observed changes in environmental conditions




Fort Yukon Polar Bear
According to biologists of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the answer to "why the polar bear crossed the Brooks Range" is as clear as mud. Polar bears typically do not stray far from their saltwater ecosystem. However, in March of 2008 an individual was shot dead in Fort Yukon, Alaska, 250 miles from her Beaufort Sea habitat. That this happened in March, a foraging time for this northern marine mammal that preys on seals, makes the incident much more unusual.

Climate change may indeed be a piece of this puzzle. As the climate and ecosystems of the north change, so do the behaviors of living organisms. Is this a bear that is adapting to the changing environment? Polar bears, being bad terrestrial hunters, will need to find a new way to exist as the amount of sea ice decreases. Human beings may have to adapt along with the bears and realize this may become a frequent occurrence.

According to natural history, polar bears originally descended from brown bears. This species started moving north and so began to evolve a different shape of snout, hair color, as well as different hunting strategies in order to adapt to its new habitat. Perhaps one day this species will come again to where it began, completing its circular life history.

Sources:
Marine Mammals Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service polar bear website.
Accessed on March 31, 2008:
http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/polarbear/pbmain.htm

Mowry, Tim. March 28, 2008. Fairbanks Daily News Miner: Why did the polar bear cross the Brooks Range? Biologists are baffled.

For more information please contact:
Nikki Cooley, Co-Manager
928/523-7046
Nikki.Cooley@nau.edu
Karen Cozzetto, Co-Manager
928/523-6758
Karen.Cozzetto@nau.edu