Moose season is underway — are you ready?
U.S. Forest Service
Welcome to moose country; born less than 40 years ago. Although appearing docile and charismatic, moose are very large, can move quickly, and can be aggressive toward people and dogs.
Moose were introduced to Colorado near North Park in 1978 and additional transplants by Colorado Parks and Wildlife followed, most recently around 2003 from Utah to the Grand Mesa. Since introduction, moose have increased in population and expanded their statewide range. The statewide population in 2014 was approximately 2,400.
Moose are part of the deer family, but why do moose travel alone most of the time, unlike deer?
Moose are the largest member of the deer family in North America. They are found in northern climates around the world, living in northern forests at and below the tundra latitudes. Moose on the Grand Mesa are the southernmost population in the world.
Moose often are found alone. They eat stems and shoots of woody plants, as well as annual plants and grasses. They do not congregate in herds like deer and elk, although it’s possible to see several moose where forage and cover is good, such as wetlands and valley bottoms with expanses of willow.
Types of moose
There is one species of moose in North America. Males, or bulls, weigh 850-1,200 pounds. Females, or cows weigh 600-800 pounds. An adult male is 5-7 feet tall and 8-10 feet from nose to tail. Each year, bulls grow massive flat antlers resembling an opened hand. Both sexes are dark brown with long gray legs, thick neck, humped shoulders, large round bulging nose and a skin flap hanging from the neck (dewlap).
Moose are very strong and athletic. They can run as fast as 35 miles per hour and can travel hundreds of miles. Moose have flexible joints and sharp, pointed hooves and are capable of kicking with both their front and back feet in all directions.
In Colorado, the greatest number of moose is in Grand, Routt and Jackson counties between Winter Park and Wyoming. North Park claims the moose capitol of Colorado. Delta, Gunnison, Saguache and Chaffee counties also have high numbers of moose.
In Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties, moose numbers are rising. Moose are present in the Fryingpan, Crystal and Roaring Fork river valleys. Moose are also expanding into the Maroon Creek Valley, near Town of Snowmass Village, east of Aspen, near South Canyon and north of New Castle. Clearly, moose country is all around us.
What should you do if you encounter a moose?
First, raise your awareness and become educated on how to be safe around moose. Then, out on the road or trail, be alert for moose; especially near wetlands, aspen forests, meadows and nearby streams. Practice responsible viewing etiquette; stay back 100 yards (the length of a football field) to stay safe. Keep clear of cows with their young — they are very protective. Hiking alone is not recommended. Hiking with dogs can be a really bad idea.
Why? Dogs trigger aggressive defensive behavior because of the instinctive fear moose have of wolves — their primary canine predator. Recent moose attacks in Colorado have involved dogs. In 2014, two people were severely injured by moose in Gilpin County, three in Grand County and one in Routt County. All were walking with dogs. The presence of the dog leashed or unleashed does not appear to significantly reduce the potential threat of injury in close encounters. Moose will not necessarily differentiate between humans and dogs in aggressive defensive behavior.
Signs of aggression are eye contact with you, laid back ears, lowered head, swaying back and forth and hairs on the back of a moose’s neck and shoulders standing up. If charged by a moose, run. Get behind a large solid object. If knocked down, get up and run. Moose will trample you causing serious life threatening injuries.
In Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties, there is no moose hunting season. However, we live in moose country and the season is rapidly approaching when people encounter moose. Are you prepared?
For more information, visit http://cpw.state.co.us/ keyword “moose.”
Phil Nyland is the District Wildlife Biologist for the Aspen and Sopris Ranger Districts. Contact him at 970-963-2266.
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Born in New Castle, Alice McKennis Duran learned to ski at 2 at Sunlight Mountain with her father and older sister, Kendra. She also had a brief stint training with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club prior to joining the national team.