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Moose assaults on gardens can be infuriating

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — "Moose don't nibble, they gulp," Mary Shier said.

She should know. A master gardener for 25 years, she's been cultivating her 2½ acres on lower DeArmoun Road since the early 1970s. She knows firsthand the heartbreaking loss of a beloved tree or shrub to a hungry ungulate.

And hungry they are this time of year. According to state wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott, an adult moose has to regain 30 percent of its body weight (300-plus pounds) during the warm months. Sinnott estimates there are 200 to 300 moose now in the Anchorage Bowl.

"There aren't any fruit or veggies out yet, so they are concentrated on leaves and grass right now," he said. "But they'll clip my wife's tulips in a heartbeat."

Preferred edibles include willows, aspen, birch and cottonwoods, but in the summertime, he said, they move on to grass, herbs and flowering plants. Your flowering plants.

Sharon Davies, a gardener in downtown Anchorage, takes it personally.

"Moose are destructive, and as a gardener I resent them," she said.

One year, moose ate all the blossom heads off her day lilies. To protect plants in her unfenced front yard, she constructed circular barriers made of rebar and plastic piping.

"It doesn't keep the moose out, but it keeps them from stepping on my peonies," Davies said.

But for many urban gardeners, barriers like these are necessary only in the winter, when more moose are in the city. Once summer hits, the moose have enough other foliage — wild and domestic — to keep them busy, Davies said.

Not so for people living at higher altitudes.

"We get moose through here all year round," Shier said, adding that she and her neighbors average about two a week.

Thirteen years ago, Shier declared war after moose devoured all the flowers in her planters.

"I jumped up and down and screamed, 'It's time for a fence!'" Shier said.

With her husband, Shier enclosed her backyard garden with stainless steel cables strung horizontally between treated wood posts.

A slight woman with cornflower-blue eyes and neatly cropped white hair, Shier pointed to an ornamental shrub next to the fence.

"See that?" she asked, gesturing toward a plant. It looked healthy, with 5-foot-high willowy boughs about to bud. "Now look at the same shrub on the other side of the fence."

That one was a good 3 feet shorter, with its ends sheared off. Next to it, the bark on a lilac bush had been nearly stripped clean. Shier said a bull moose was in rut and attacked it one day, knocking it over.

"It was a mess!" she said.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.