Alaska inmates at a prison work farm are taking on a new assignment: butchering the meat of moose struck by trains.
ANCHORAGE — Alaska inmates at a prison work farm are taking on a new assignment: butchering the meat of moose struck by trains each winter along a 68-mile stretch of track.
The meat will be processed by prisoners at the Point MacKenzie Correctional Farm, then distributed to soup kitchens and other charities serving the needy, under the joint effort by the state Department of Corrections, Alaska Railroad and Food Bank of Alaska.
“Moose meat is, like all protein in the food banking business, just like gold,” Merri Mike Adams, development director for the Anchorage-based food bank, said today.
“This is a fabulous bonanza for us. We don’t want to give the impression that we’re celebrating moose being killed. But if it’s going to happen, then let’s not waste the meat,” she said.
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The stretch of track north of Anchorage was chosen because that’s generally where the highest number of moose kills occur in the railroad’s 611-mile system, officials said. Snow accumulates so deeply that many of the half-ton animals wander onto the plowed tracks — and into the path of trains.
In the past several years, the railroad has plowed 15 feet on each side of the tracks to give the moose more roaming room. Workers also remove the vegetation along that swath that attracts the hungry animals, said railroad spokesman Tim Thompson. That has significantly cut down on train-moose collisions.
But they still occur. Last year, trains killed 183 moose statewide. Of those, 63 were in the new project corridor.
“Trying to suddenly stop a fully loaded freight train is difficult at best. Unfortunately incidents still occur,” Thompson said. “No one ever wants to see moose hit, but at least now we’ll see a more effective method of distributing the meat.”
That stretch also happens to be in the same region as the 640-acre inmate work farm, a minimum security facility for lower level offenders. The vegetable and livestock farm also just so happens to house a meat cutting room for training inmates the butcher’s trade. That room was the linchpin in the charity project, as far as officials are concerned.
The railroad already participates in a roadkill program by the state Department of Public Safety that provides moose to poor Alaskans. Nonprofit groups take turns collecting the remains of animals hit by trains and cars. But occasionally no one shows up and the meat goes to waste, according to Adams and Thompson.
The food bank already receives cabbage, broccoli, zucchini, radishes and other fresh produce grown at Point MacKenzie. So striking up a deal for meat was a natural, officials said. Moose and other wild game are not subject to state or federal inspection.
Under the agreement reached this week, railroad workers will take moose carcasses to the nearest crossing, where inmates supervised by a corrections officer will pick up the dead animals. The collection job likely will take three inmates, who will use a winch to lift the moose, said Joe Schmidt, superintendent of the work farm.
Prisoners will grind the moose meat and divide it into one-pound packages for the food bank to distribute among some of the 300 charities it serves across the state. A 1,000 pound moose can yield more than 300 pounds of ground meat.
“The inmates are very willing to do this type of work,” Schmidt said. “It’s something they can do to better serve the community somehow. Prisoners should be doing that type of work instead of being disruptive.”