Anchorage coffee shop owner fined for feeding moose

a moose
A moose eating pumpkins early on Monday near A Whole Latte Love coffee shop in Anchorage on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. The shop’s owner was cited for feeding game and fined by Alaska State Troopers. (From AST)

When snow gets deep and moose struggle to find food it’s tempting to feed them, as an Anchorage woman is accused of doing earlier this week. But biologists say there are some good reasons not to do that.

First of all, it’s illegal, and it can be costly if you get cited. Just ask Michelle Drury, who runs a coffee stand near the Carrs grocery store at Dimond Boulevard and Jewel Lake Road.

Troopers fined Drury $320 for allegedly feeding a moose early Monday morning, according to an online dispatch.

An AST spokesman said an Alaska Wildlife Trooper was driving by the A Whole Latte Love coffee shop, and stopped after he saw Drury throw pumpkins from her car in the drive-up lane where there were two cars in line. Troopers say the moose was about 15 feet away.

Dan Thompson, a wildlife biologist at the Kenai Moose Research Center near Sterling, says a lot of people don’t know that feeding a moose at this time of the year can be harmful to its digestive system.

The animals have four stomachs. The largest is called the rumen, which is like the main holding tank for everything the moose consumes. Depending on the seasons, the bacteria in the rumen changes. In the winter, the microbes work best to digest roughage like twigs and tree bark. .

“What happens is when you give them something like a pumpkin, or if they get a lot of a lot of good quality feed really quickly, when that goes into their rumen, there is a lot of bacteria and other microbes in there that start breaking that down,” Thompson said. “They produce gas as a byproduct, and it can cause the animal to bloat, which can be fatal to them.”

If moose eat too many pumpkins Thompson said their digestive systems, which are being primed for winter food, may not be able to handle all the gas it will create in their rumen. Thompson said there’s only so much bloating a moose can handle before the rumen starts pushing into other organs like the lungs, causing the moose to lie down and die, due to asphyxiation. 

a moose
The shop’s owner, Michelle Drury, said the pumpkins were decorative items that rolled onto the ground from her car. She plans to fight the citation. (From AST)

The trooper, after issuing the citation at the coffee stand, chased the moose into the woods and stuck around for about a half an hour to make sure it was gone.

And while this may sound like much ado about an ungulate, Thompson says moose really crave rich foods, which creates another set of problems.

“It’s just like bears,” he said. “They’ll figure it out pretty quickly, and if they know that you are providing food, they’ll keep coming back — and they can get very aggressive around food, just as a bear can.”

Thompson says although a moose might be friendly one minute, it’s still a wild animal.

“It doesn’t take but a split second for them to go back into that mode, and they can be very dangerous at that point,” he said.

a coffee shack
The A Whole Latte Love coffee shack, outside the Carrs grocery store at Anchorage’s Dimond Boulevard and Jewel Lake Road. (Rhonda McBride/KNBA)

As for Michelle Drury, she said she didn’t feed the moose — that as she was unloading her van, two small decorative pumpkins fell out, which she tossed into the parking lot and suddenly a moose appeared.

She said she plans to fight the citation.

She said if she should be fined, so should everyone else in Anchorage who has left a pumpkin out after Halloween. Drury said she’s heard talk radio show hosts for years encourage people to do that.

While there’s nothing that moose love to munch on more than Halloween pumpkins, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Thompson said that in August and September, moose make the transition from a fall to winter diet by eating more low-energy foods.

For those who worry that a moose might starve as they trudge through heavy snow looking for food, Thompson said not to worry. Moose get plenty of forage in the summer, which gives them plenty of reserves to get through the winter.

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