Moose turns heads in Rifle |

Moose turns heads in Rifle

Special to the Post Independent/Debra BrielsA moose roams through a field near Airport Road southeast of Rifle Sunday.

RIFLE ” Rifle High School Bears country is now also moose country.

Several people have spotted a large bull east of the Wal-Mart Supercenter, in the area of Airport Road.

The moose apparently was a Utah animal recently transplanted to the Grand Mesa area.

Tammie Sherman of New Castle said she was with her daughter when they saw the animal off a dirt frontage road east of Wal-Mart Sunday afternoon. She said the moose was visible from Interstate 70.

“We were shocked. I actually thought that somebody may have put out a plastic one for a joke because it’s hunting season,” she said.

Then she saw the animal swing its head.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s real,'” Sherman said.

A Colorado native who grew up in Glenwood Springs, Sherman said she had never before seen one of the animals in Colorado.

“He’s a huge bull moose. It was unbelievable,” Sherman said.

She worries that the moose might try to cross I-70 in search of water, or get shot by a hunter.

Despite the animal’s proximity to the highway and civilization, the Colorado Division of Wildlife plans to leave it be, at least for the time being.

“It hasn’t caused any problems or created a situation where we would do anything, so for now we’re leaving it alone,” said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton.

“There’s a significant risk to the animal in moving it, so we weigh all that.”

Tranquilizing moose sometimes can kill them, so the agency is hoping this one will head back toward the mountains on its own.

This year the DOW has been introducing moose in the Grand Mesa area, around Vega Reservoir east of Collbran. That’s just on the other side of Battlement Mesa, the mountainous uplift south of Rifle and the communities of Parachute and Battlement Mesa. Hampton said a couple of the transplanted moose have made their way over Battlement Mesa from Grand Mesa.

One of the Grand Mesa moose was killed when it was hit by a vehicle on I-70 near Rulison a few weeks ago.

Hampton said oil and gas workers recently saw a moose hanging out in the Parachute Creek area north of Parachute. Unlike the Grand Mesa moose, that one didn’t have an identification tag, so it may have come from up north, he said.

Colorado has a long-established moose population in Walden, east of Steamboat Springs, and some of them have spread to the area north of Vail.

Last fall, at least one moose was spotted near Canyon Creek west of Glenwood Springs. This summer, a moose ” possibly the same one ” wandered down into No Name, the tiny hamlet off I-70 just east of Glenwood. DOW officials decided to transplant that animal to Grand Mesa because it was lingering in No Name, hanging out in yards near children and close to I-70.

The moose was moved to the Vega Reservoir area, where it has remained, and “seems to be doing well,” Hampton said. It is being tracked via a radio transmitter.

He said the DOW has received a couple of calls from the public on the Rifle moose, starting late last week.

Sherman said the moose had an identification tag on it with the number 37. Hampton said if that’s the case, it appears to be a moose trapped in Utah Sept. 22 and released east of Vega Reservoir on Sept. 26.

The Grand Mesa moose mostly have been brought in from Utah, where game officials are trying to deal with problem animals that are moving down off the Wasatch Front and into the Interstate 15 corridor, Hampton said.

“We’re really giving these animals a chance even though there’s always a risk with wild animals,” he said.

Twenty-two moose are now in the Grand Mesa area since the animals first began to be moved there early this year. Hampton said he believes five have died in the program, including a couple deaths that were transplant-related, the accident in Rulison and a possible lion kill.

He said it’s not surprising to see moose roam.

“They have large territories. They’re going to spread out and find where they’re comfortable,” he said.

Moose feed primarily on willow. DOW officials hope the search for good willow habitat will lead the Rifle moose back to Grand Mesa.

“It’s a challenge because these animals are going to roam around, and there is an interstate there. Hopefully he’s going to stay away from it,” Hampton said.

He said the DOW will watch the moose in case it becomes necessary to move him.

“Right now, all that animal’s doing is coming down where he’s providing a watchable wildlife opportunity, a photo opportunity for a lot of people,” he said.

That was one of the goals of transplanting the moose to western Colorado, Hampton noted.

Meanwhile, with hunting season here the DOW has posted warning signs in places such as along the Silt-Collbran road to make sure elk hunters don’t shoot moose by mistake.

“They really shouldn’t. The animals are really distinct,” he said.

It’s important that hunters be sure of their targets, he said.

“They shouldn’t confuse the two animals but it has happened in the past,” Hampton said.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516

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