JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
Winter in Alaska gives Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson residents relief from most concerns about bears, but dangers still exist from moose, wolves and even birds.
Yes, I really do mean birds.
Around both Elmendorf and Bryant Army Airfields ravens can pose a serious threat to aircraft and their crews.
This time of year there are few birds, but ravens and bald eagles are present and are large enough to cause serious damage to aircraft in a collision.
Airmen, Soldiers and workers alike have a responsibility to keep our air crews safe:
Report all birds within the Bird Exclusion Zones surrounding airfields to 552-BIRD.
Ensure all dumpsters stay closed and latched; and never - even temporarily - store groceries, food or garbage in the back of uncovered pickups while on JBER.
Moose actually rank above bears in causing human deaths and injuries in Alaska, primarily due to collisions with vehicles.
Collisions between drivers and moose typically peak during December through March.
An adult moose can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and striking one while driving at speeds of 65 mph can seriously damage the vehicle.
Because of their long legs, collisions with a car or small truck allow their large body to flip into the windshield and enter the driver/passenger compartment head-high.
Moose are dark animals and even if you could see their eyes reflecting in the headlights, they seldom look at vehicles as they cross roads.
Even with snow on the ground, moose are difficult to see in Alaska's long winter nights.
Your key actions to avoid these dangerous collisions should be to slow down and stay alert.
The following steps can reduce your risk of colliding with these large ungulates:
- Keep windshields and headlights clean
- Slow down when visibility is reduced or roads are icy
- Use your headlight high-beams as often as oncoming traffic allows
- Constantly scan roadsides well ahead
- Slow down when a moose is observed near the road
- Expect to see a second or third moose
Human deaths from attacks by moose are rare but there are more human deaths from moose attacks than deaths by wolves in Alaska.
Moose are more likely to react negatively during the winter, due to stress brought on by long winters with deep snow.
Cow moose often aggressively defend their calves from perceived threats.
Frequent disturbances or hazing from humans or dogs can cause a moose to fight instead of fleeing.
The following precautions and actions can reduce risks from moose:
- Parents should always check the route before sending school children out the door to school or the bus stop.
- Keep pets on a leash and under control.
If a moose is near:
- Watch for signs of moose becoming irritated- hackles ups, ears pulled back and/or licking lips
- At the first signs of irritation, back-off to a safe location - house, auto, or tree; just put distance between you and the moose
- If charged, run to a safe location, dodge behind trees, roll under a large sturdy object like a parked vehicle, or up against a wall, fence or snow-berm.
- If a moose knocks you down, roll into a ball, cover your head and neck with your hands and play dead.
Once the moose is a safe distance away, contact the Law Enforcement Desk
JBER has an extended history of wolves taking or attempting to take pets from owners.
The earliest event was recorded in 1995, when wolves from the "Elmendorf Pack" first attempted to take a dog in the owner's presence.
Since then the number of "events' has waxed and waned as food availability for wolves changed.
In recent winters those events have increased, increasing public safety concerns.
Most concerning for biologists of Alaska Department of Fish and Game and JBER were numerous observations of wolves boldly approaching humans and walking in and around housing on and off base in search of food, presumably pets.
The recent wolf attack and death of a teacher in the Alaska village of Chignik has sensitized managers to the potential risk from these efficient predators.
Area ADF&G Biologist, Jessy Coltrane, advises all residents to follow these precautions if walking in wooded areas within the range of the Elmendorf pack (JBER, north of the Glenn Highway).
Cease walking pets in remote wooded areas.
Keep pets on leashes so they can be controlled and kept close (even within the cantonment area).
Keep small children close at hand.
Carry bear pepper spray or an air horn to ward off any aggressive wolves.
ADF&G Regional Supervisor, Mark Burch, has directed JBER Conservation Enforcement Officers to take every opportunity to lethally remove all members of the offending pack.
If JBER efforts prove unsuccessful soon, ADF&G will take actions similar to those recently reported in Port Heiden on the Alaska Peninsula.
The key to being safe from wildlife in winter is to think ahead, remain alert and be prepared. For more information, call 552-0200.