Steamboat Springs The threat an injured moose posed to the public necessitated its killing Saturday near the Steamboat Ski Area, local wildlife officials said Tuesday.
The injured bull moose was shot on Burgess Creek Road after charging skiers and riders at the ski area and people at nearby residences, Colorado Division of Wildlife District Manager Mike Middleton said.
"The moose had been on or around the ski area for at least a month probably, maybe since the start of ski season even," Middleton said. "There was never any problem with the moose until Saturday."
Steamboat Ski Patrol contacted DOW officials Saturday morning because the moose was showing signs of aggression toward people, Middleton said. The moose had been spotted on the Ted's Ridge and Vogue ski trails, and in Rough Rider Basin, and was bleeding from an unknown injury, he said.
"Ski Patrol said that a number of people had skied close to it, and were charged," Middleton said. "People had to retreat for their own safety."
Ski Patrol attempted to keep an eye on the moose and divert people until the animal moved to a safer area. Middleton was trying to track the animal on skis at about 1 p.m. Saturday when it was reported that the moose was being aggressive and charging people on Burgess Creek Road.
"Some folks were heading back to a condo, and they sort of crossed the path of the moose," Middleton said. "The people that were walking back to their home threw skis at the moose to keep it from charging at them."
"We determined that the moose needed to be destroyed because it was bleeding so heavily, because of its behavior, and because of where it was," Middleton said.
The moose was shot and killed in the driveway of a home on Burgess Creek Road about 2:20 p.m. A large group of people who had gathered in the area witnessed the killing. The animal was killed instantly and did not suffer, Middleton said.
The moose was sent to Fort Collins for testing. The animal's front feet were badly injured from pawing through hard snow and walking on hard-packed ski runs and paved roads, Middleton said. Although the animal was not starving, its fat reserves were dwindling, he said.
DOW officers take many factors into consideration when deciding whether to put an animal down, but any animal in a situation that endangers people weighs considerably on the decision.
"Our protocol is, if it's a danger to people, we're going to put it down," DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said. "These animals can kill people."
In 2006, an elderly man in Grand Lake was killed by an injured moose while he was walking to church.
"I know there are people out there who hesitate to call DOW for fear the animal will be put down," Hampton said. "I'd hate for somebody to not make that call and have somebody else end up dead or severely injured because of that decision."
When an animal is killed, questions often arise as to why the animal was shot instead of tranquilized, Hampton said. Due to federal protocols, DOW officers cannot carry animal tranquilizers at all times since they can be misused as date-rape drugs, he said.
Tranquilizers present a time-frame problem in dangerous situations, because officers either must wait for a tranquilizer kit to be brought to them from a secure location, or leave the scene to pick one up, he said.
"A lot of it is officer discretion," Hampton said. "Wildlife officers are trained biologists - they have a great deal of understanding about what these animals are capable of."
DOW officers also take into account what type of animal they're dealing with. Smaller animals such as bighorn sheep and deer, especially does and fawns, do not pose the same risk as moose, bull elk or mountain lions, which are much more likely to cause harm in the same situation, Hampton said.
Sightings of potentially dangerous wildlife at the ski area are rare, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokeswoman Heidi Thomsen said. The moose killed last weekend was the first incident of an aggressive animal being found in a populated part of the ski area this season, she said.
"If you are skiing and you see something, just leave it alone and notify someone," Thomsen said. "Typically, we advise people not to approach wildlife and to report it if they can - to Steamboat employees, Ski Patrol or lift operators."
Situations such as Saturday's are rare, but their frequency increases in the winter, Hampton said.
"In the winter, they can become more common because the animals are concentrated closer to people," Hampton said. "This is a pretty heavy winter, so it's happening with some frequency."
DOW officials shot and killed an aggressive coyote Feb. 9 at Copper Mountain. People in the area were apparently feeding the coyote, which likely contributed to its death, Hampton said.
"People assume the animals are hungry and they try to help," Hampton said. "It's why we try and tell people don't feed wild animals, because it can lead to their aggression, and it can also attract predators."
Female animals can be more aggressive in the spring because of the presence of their offspring, and males do the same in fall during mating season, he said.
In the wake of Saturday's incident, Middleton learned that police had been summoned to Burgess Creek Road on Friday night because people were chasing the same moose.
"Lingering around, trying to get the cell phone picture of the family in front of the moose - all bad ideas," Middleton said. "Avoid them at all costs."
Humans can coexist with wildlife to a large extent, Middleton said. A family of moose lives on the golf course at Catamount Ranch and Club year-round, and no problems have been reported, he said.
But in cases where the safety of the animal or people is threatened, DOW or other law enforcement should be notified immediately, Hampton said.
"If the animal's going about its own business, then leave it alone," he said. "When the animal is in a position that puts it in danger, like in town, if it's in traffic - that's an animal that needs our assistance, to maybe move it to a place where it should be and where it would be safe."
To contact the Colorado Division of Wildlife, call 870-2197. If you are unable to reach the DOW in an emergency, call 911.