Dan Schwartz

Kenai Peninsula moose populations are declining

KENAI — Four moose were harvested in Game Management Unit 15A on the Kenai Peninsula last year, said Ted Spraker, acting chair of the Alaska Board of Game. “This is the same area that used to have upwards of 350, 360 moose taken in some years,” he said. “In the last decade it’s just been steadily going down and down and down.” When the Alaska Department of Fish and Game conducted a moose census in February 2008 in Unit 15A, the area of the Peninsula north of Sterling and west of the mountains, it counted about 2,000 moose — about 40 percent less than census findings in the ‘90s, said Thomas McDonough, a Homer-based Fish and Game research biologist. The two factors culling moose population in 15A, McDonough said, are habitat and predators. In 1969 a forest fire swept through much of 15A, replenishing and sustaining food for the moose through 1980 and 1990, McDonough said. “When you get a fire, you get a whole change in the plant composition,” he said “... Those early successional stages are what produces really highly quality moose food.” However, the moose have long since eaten much of the available food, he said. “Without fire to rejuvenate habitat, you get predictable decline in moose numbers,” he said, “and Fish and Game staff in the late ‘80s and ‘90s fully predicted we’d be in the situation we’re in now.” To bolster moose’s supplies of food, McDonough said Fish and Game will fell certain types of old trees this winter, such as aspen. He said it will be a small-scale operation that will encourage new root development, a good source of food for moose. “If you cut certain areas and leave certain areas untouched, it creates a real mosaic of habitat types, which is good for a diversity of wildlife, not just moose,” he said. McDonough said Fish and Game will discuss further options this winter. To address the predator aspect, the Board of Game passed a proposal in a January 2012 meeting to approve intensive management actions in areas of 15A and 15C, Kenai Area Wildlife Biologist Jeff Selinger said. Those actions could include aerial wolf gunning, Division Director of Fish and Game Doug Vincent-Lang said. “It allows us to do aerial wolf control,” he said, “but there are many other tools (in the box).” The approval grants only Fish and Game permission to kill wolf populations, not the public, Spraker said. “Now what we do have and what has been proven in all of our predator control programs is that if we can temporarily reduce the number of wolves — in other words, if we could take about 60 to 70 percent of the wolves in an area — it makes a profound effect on (moose) calf survival,” he said. Action on the initiative is currently postponed, pending further population studies, McDonough said. Vincent-Lang said Fish and Game will “probably” not implement any form of wolf control this winter. Fish and Game is conducting further moose population studies in 15A, and it will release its findings this winter. The new information will determine how Fish and Game responds to the diminishing moose population in the future, McDonough said.

Kenai Peninsula berry grower cultivates a 'masterpiece'

KENAI — Brian Olson said he will spend the rest of his life further cultivating what he said is the country’s new “super berry” — and he is thrilled. The berries are, “hardy, the fruit’s great and I’m really excited for it because I think it can be a new commercial crop in this state that people can actually commercially grow,” he said. The berry Olson is excited about grows from the Japanese haskap plant, and because of its resiliency, he said it will be a significant contribution in a state that is not predominately known for its crop productions. “People will recognize it and they’ll know it and they’ll love it and there will be a lot of products out there for them to purchase,” he said. He has cultivated a genetically unique product that he said is unlike any other berry. “A strawberry has a strawberry taste; a raspberry has a raspberry taste; a blueberry has a blueberry taste — this berry is multi-flavored,” he said. He said it hits all his taste buds. “When you put it in your mouth you roll it around; you get the sweets, you get the sours, you get the tang, you get some zest,” he said. The 57-year-old Soldotna resident and co-owner of Alaska Berries said the haskap has already been proven an Alaska hardy plant that can weather the state’s winters. “We know it’s beyond the experimental part — it’s successful,” he said. There are other berries grown in Alaska that are suitable for the state’s short and harsh growing season, but none, he said, rival the haskap for its health benefits. The haskap berries trump blueberries, another “super berry,” in levels of antioxidants, phenols, Vitamin A and C, anthocyanins and bioflavinoids, he said. And they harvest early, he said. The heavy rains in late August often shorten growing seasons, but the berries on the haskap plant are best picked in early to mid August before the rains. An earlier harvesting also saves the berries from the swarms of wasps that plague the later-flowering berry crops, he said. On average a one-year-old plant produces a handful of berries, he said. By year five, he said it can produce four to five pounds, and by maturity, 10 to 12 pounds. Brian Olson shows off a haskap berry on one of the bushes he is cultivating near Kenai. Olson describes the berry’s taste as “a blend of the flavors of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.”(Photos/M. Scott Moon/Peninsula Clarion) Each plant has a 50-year life expectancy, he said, nearly doubling that of other berries he grows on his farm. Cultivating its resiliency was simple, he said — they came that way from Japan. The plant’s native land in Hokkaido, Japan, is similar to the environment of Southcentral Alaska. He said much of the work developing his new strains was in honing the berries’ taste, size, output and ease of being plucked. “I’m just a farmer and I was just taking the seeds from the best of the best, planting those and then seeing what kind of crops I could come up with,” he said. Janice Chumley, a cooperative extension service IPM research technician for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said she has worked with Olson over the years as he grew his berry farm, and she said Olson has put a lot of effort into his haskap plants. “I think that the breeding that he’s done — it’s a good deal,” Chumley said. “They’re lovely looking plants, they produce well, they’re winter hardy — what’s not to like?” She also said they have innate defenses to pests, which is why Olson has not had to use pesticides on the haskap plants. Currently Olson is working on a trademark for his new strains, and when he completes the paperwork in 2014 he said he will probably continue releasing new varieties every couple of years. “If I live long enough there might be 10 varieties that are named, patented, trademarked that’ll be sold just like when you see plants for sale at nurseries,” he said. As a farmer, he said this discovery will shape the rest of his life. He said it is his masterpiece. “I’m never going to be finished,” he said. “I’m going to continue researching these plants until the day I die.”
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