Steamboat Springs Dropping temperatures are pushing big game, including moose and elk, down to lower elevations and into populated areas of the Yampa Valley, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
"All the animals are preparing for winter. Bears head for hibernation, and everything else heads for lower ground," DOW public information officer Randy Hampton said this week. "In the Yampa Valley, that means into town."
Conflict between humans and large wildlife increases markedly during the cold months, Hampton said, including automobile accidents involving big game and chance encounters in the outdoors. He said bears are steering clear of populated areas so far this season, largely thanks to ample natural food sources.
Mountain biker Johanna Hall encountered an aggressive young bull moose late Tuesday afternoon while riding on Mount Werner.
"He was standing his ground and making some noise. Meanwhile, there was crashing and thrashing above him in the bushes," Hall said. "They can get into some pretty aggressive behavior."
Hall and a fellow mountain biker opted to steer clear of the moose.
"We backed up and got out of there," Hall said. "He wasn't going to move, and we weren't going to get too close, either."
No wildlife complaints - about moose or other large game - have been received recently at the Steamboat Ski Area, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Spokesman Mike Lane said. However, moose are known to cross the ski area periodically, particularly in the Sunshine Peak area, he said.
"They are around up on the mountain," Lane said. "It is mating season, so if you encounter anything, give it a wide berth."
Hall's wildlife run-in earlier this week was not the only time she has encountered a moose at Steamboat Ski Area, though the animals typically do not show aggression, she said.
"There's several of them right in that same spot on the mountain, on Zig Zag right before you pop out on the Why Not road," Hall said.
In February, DOW crews put down an injured bull moose on Burgess Creek Road after the animal charged skiers and riders at the ski area and nearby residences. The moose had been spotted on the Ted's Ridge and Vogue ski trails, as well as in Rough Rider Basin, before its aggressive behavior necessitated its killing.
Frequent hiker Michael Turner came across an aggressive bull moose on the lower mountain Tuesday. The moose charged another hiker's dog after the animal kept trying to approach it, he said.
"They're up there, and people should be aware," Turner said. "You don't want to come nose-to-nose with a moose. They don't really have a sense of humor."
Bear problems have been down markedly in the Yampa Valley in recent months, as ample berries and acorns have kept them in their natural habitat instead of venturing into town to forage, Hampton said. Bears especially were problematic in Steamboat Springs in the summer and fall of 2007, after a June frost killed many of their natural food sources.
Testing road warnings
The Colorado Department of Transportation, in coordination with DOW, is testing an innovative wildlife detection system in a pilot program near Durango, Hampton said.
Underground cables on a one-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 160 detect the movements of large animals, activating electronic signs warning motorists to be alert for wildlife in the roadway, according to a CDOT news release.
The $1 million project went into operation Monday and will undergo several years of testing and monitoring, including gauging driver reaction.