“I feel like I was born for this,” Dana DeBernardi says as she hikes up to the fenced enclosure that houses six moose calves. The calves, either abandoned or orphaned, have been at Moose Mamas about a month. The goal of the Anchorage based nonprofit is to rescue, rehabilitate and release orphaned moose calves back into the wild.
In early fall, the calves will be transported in pairs by float plane and released on CIRI lands near Beluga Lake, an area 50 miles west of Anchorage accessible only by boat or plane. Last year, all four calves released by Moose Mamas survived the winter. Previous efforts by other organizations were less successful.
Moose Mamas intern Montanna Zajac was on the flight this spring that proved the calves released last fall were still alive. “It was my first time up in a bush plane, and Dana actually let me hold the transmitter so I got to plug in the frequency of the collars of our calves from last summer and listen to that beeping noise, which is like a heartbeat,” Zajac said. “When you work so hard to ensure they survive and to see them down there, oh, I can’t even describe it – it’s a wonderful experience.”
Joe Schuster, a bear guide who operates on CIRI lands, donated transportation for the moose calves to Moose Mamas. CIRI’s Jason Brune, senior director, Land and Resources, worked with Moose Mamas Executive Director DeBernardi to identify the area the calves would be released.
“We are grateful to our partners who operate on CIRI land who aided in this effort,” Brune said. “Ultimately, we hope that by releasing these animals on CIRI land, we may see an increase in the moose population, especially since this is an area where so many people, many of whom are CIRI shareholders, rely on subsistence.”
“Conservatively, if a cow lives an average of 18 years, she can produce in her bloodline over 780 moose,” DeBernardi, a single mother of three, said. “So it may look small what we’re doing, but it can grow if you let it.”
Moose Mamas was founded in 2014. The organization operates solely on donations and volunteers. “By some miracle, at the end of the month we’re always OK [financially], which makes me know we’re doing the right thing,” DeBernardi said.
“Moose are so important for food security,” she emphasized. “They say a single moose is worth $12,000 to $15,000 to a rural family. The challenges are many, but we’ve had super good success. We’re just going to keep on going.”
For more information and to learn how you can support Moose Mamas, visit www.moosemamas.org.