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Moose-impaling fence around famed Alaska mansion will be removed

Craig Medred
Rick Sinnott / ADF&G

A study is under way to find a fix for a fence around the Atwood Mansion with a history of torturing and killing moose in Anchorage -- most notably cute, little calves.

Natasha von Imhof, a spokeswoman for the Atwood Foundation, said she walked the fence line on Thursday with a representative of Triple A Fence and asked for suggestions and bids on a plan to either remove the spike-topped steel fence or cap the spikes to keep moose from impaling themselves there. She said the foundation board wanted to address the issue swifty.

"We're eager to get this resolved as soon as possible,'' said von Imhof, who was waiting to hear a recommendation from the fence company.

Anchorage residents reacted strongly on Thursday night and Friday when photos of moose impaled on the fence appeared on Alaska Dispatch. Rick Sinnott, a Dispatch writer and the retired area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, detailed the history of how moose in Alaska's largest city -- especially young moose -- regularly try to get over spiked-top fences only to end up impaled there. Usually they squirm and struggle to get off until they die a slow, painful death.

It isn't only on the fence around the historic Atwood Mansion that this happens, von Imhof noted. "There are many places in town with this fence,'' she said. "It's not just the Atwood fence.''

The Atwood fence, however, has become a focal point.

The fence surrounds the estate of the late Bob Atwood, which in 2011 was appraised by the city as being worth $2,088,600. Because it houses a nonprofit foundation, it pays no city property taxes. 

Atwood was the publisher of a now-extinct newspaper called The Anchorage Times. The Anchorage Times once packed New-York-Times-style influence in the 49th state. It made the Atwood family rich, and a lot of the money ended up with the Atwood Foundation after the of Bob died in 1997 and his daughter Elaine passed away in 2003. The foundation has been hugely influential in funding art and culture in Alaska for decades.

RELATED: Alaska mansion's fence kills another moose, the fourth in three years

Among the many things the organization has backed is the Atwood Chair of Journalism at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Bob Atwood always recognized the power of the press to change the world, and Anchorage was getting a real-life lesson in that Friday.

The public outrage in reaction to the dead-moose photos on Alaska Dispatch was wide and uniform. There were reports of protests being planned outside the Atwood property. The calls for action -- some said protesters should "Occupy Atwood Mansion" -- died down only after the foundation promised to make fixes to the fence.

Von Imhof said she started looking at solutions not long after being contacted by Sinnott. She added that she thought it a little unfair that the Atwood Foundation was being singled out given the problems with moose-killing fences in other parts of Anchorage.

She refused, however, to comment on whether the foundation would support a city ordinance regulating fences to help keep the city's most famous animals from dying slow and painful deaths. The mascot for the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau, which touts Anchorage as the land of "The Big Wild Life," is a dancing moose named Seymour. Von Imhof said the Atwood Foundation is an organization that deals with culture and art, not wildlife issues.

"I'm very wary of the media,'' she added.

With good reason in this case. The topic at hand is explosive. Atwood board member Maria Downey, a member of the media as the assistant news director at KTUU Channel 2, was moving quickly to try distance herself from the issue Friday morning. Shortly after the Dispatch story went online, she was contacted by a Facebook friend upset about the fence and quickly posted this:

Hi Chris, The board is already dealing with the issue . I had no idea what happened until I saw a post about it and contacted the caretaker... she said it was already being dealt with by altering the fence somehow. Hopefully it will all be done soon. Maria

Exactly how soon would appear to be up to Downey and other board members. Downey did not return a phone call Friday morning. Some things have already been done, von Imhoff said, noting that about 100 feet of spikes were capped in the past, and the gate at the Atwood Mansion is now usually kept open so moose can come and go freely.

Wildlife biologists, however, pointed out that moose don't always use gates, and adults in particular are prone to go over fences that look easy for them to cross without thinking about their young. Sinnott especially noted the problem for calves, who faithfully follow their mothers, trying to make it over fences easily negotiated by adults -- such as the fence at the Atwood Mansion.

Low, spiked fences essentially trick cows into murdering their calves.

It is "very disturbing,'' von Imhof admitted, adding that if she'd known of the problem before she would have done something long ago. "The Atwood Estate erected the fence,'' she said, and the foundation later inherited the problem. Von Imhof pledged that the Atwood Foundation will "alter the fence to make it moose friendly.''

Board member Ira Perman gasped when he saw the photos of dead, calf moose impaled on the fence. He, like Downey and von Imhof, said he didn't know about the problem and added that something needs to be done.

The lingering questions seem to revolve only around how and when, and what happens to the old fence. Sinnott confessed that as a wildlife biologist who has dealt with impaled moose, he'd hate to see it torn down only to be put up elsewhere.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com