The moose babysitter
Rick Sinnott, an Alaska wildlife official, has made a career of catching bears, corralling geese, and making sure ravens don't eat Pringles.
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• An offering of bratwurst in a trap downtown after old dog food failed to entice a young brown bear. The bear never stopped for sausage, but wandered into a neighborhood where a police officer shot it. Sinnott and Coltrane, the young biologist likely to assume Sinnott's mantle after he retires, had hoped to relocate the bear, which they considered a good candidate for survival in the wild – it had merely followed the creek into town. An autopsy revealed that it had not yet gotten into mischief, and had been sticking to fish and grass, avoiding "garbage bear" status.Skip to next paragraph
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• The rescue of an injured red-tailed hawk at the same time Sinnott was removing the unused bear trap. While he and Coltrane rescued the trapped moose calf at the condo complex, the hawk rested in the bed of Sinnott's truck, awaiting transport to a bird-rehabilitation center.
Each year, Sinnott has to kill animals that have grown aggressive toward humans or too fond of garbage, dog food, or birdseed in yards – a risk that inspires Sinnott's passion about garbage management. That ardor irks some long-time Alaskans who hate being told what to do with their trash. And it has sparked some well-publicized clashes with government officials.
In 2005, after Sinnott used particularly salty terms to tell an Anchorage Daily News reporter that he'd like to kick the posterior of the person who left a pile of rotting fish in the city's wooded Hillside neighborhood, he was reprimanded by the commissioner of Fish and Game, briefly taken off bear duty, and slapped with a temporary media gag order.
Like-minded citizens rose to his defense. "If the state ever goes bankrupt, the last employee to be let go should be Rick Sinnott," wrote Anchorage attorney Jeff Lowenfels in a letter to the editor. That clash came during years of fractiousness, with Sinnott arguing that the city's attitude about trash was too lax, while the city maintained that wildlife management couldn't be its sole priority.
Relations have eased under Mr. Begich's leadership. The mayor and the biologist have come to an understanding: In the parts of town most likely to get four-legged tourists, a long-ignored ordinance barring residents from leaving trash out overnight has been dusted off, and garbage collection has been rescheduled to accommodate late risers. There are also plans to increase recycling and so reduce garbage piled in plastic bags (an easy mark for the ravens and eagles) or in bins that bears pry open.
Sinnott, for his part, has made peace with the idea that police are too busy with human miscreants to spend much time corralling wildlife. He should know. Despite moose kicks and bear charges, Sinnott's most serious injury occurred last fall, not from an animal, but when he was the victim of a drive-by shooting on his birthday. On an Anchorage thoroughfare, he found himself caught between vehicles of apparent rival gang members, and three shots pierced his car, one hitting him in the leg. Such malefaction puts the animals' forays in perspective.
Garbage disputes notwithstanding, Sinnott sees Anchorage as a model of human-wildlife coexistence. Elsewhere, he says, efforts tend toward separation of habitats – to everyone's detriment: "The world can't work that way.... You've got to preserve the biological diversity."
Sinnott also preserves his literary side. He is a frequent winner of haiku contests held by the weekly alternative newspaper, the Anchorage Press. This year, one of his winning entries was a poem for bookish moose as well as humans:
Spring calving: time to
Be a good mother and watch
Your kids closely