Community Agriculture Alliance: Moose numbers increasing in Routt

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A decade ago, having an encounter with a moose in Routt County was considered a relatively rare occurrence. However, during the past 10 years, moose numbers have significantly increased. Nowadays, moose frequently are observed in the Steamboat Springs area and also can be found regularly in many other parts of the county.

Colorado is in the southern portion of the historic range for moose, but it wasn't until the late 1970s, when moose from Utah and Wyoming were reintroduced to North Park, that Colorado had a substantial moose population. Moose were able to successfully establish themselves in North Park, and throughout time, the population expanded east toward Rocky Mountain National Park and south into Middle Park to create additional moose populations. Ultimately, moose from these populations found their way to Routt County. In 1997, moose were introduced into Rio Grande National Forest near Creede. In 2005, moose were transplanted to the Grand Mesa in western Colorado. And earlier this year, the first moose transplant into the Flat Tops Wilderness Area east of Meeker was conducted.

Moose are unique and exciting animals to watch. In Routt County, moose most frequently are seen in wet areas with mountain streams or lakes that are near aspen or conifer forests. The best vantage point is a high spot overlooking one of these areas. Moose can be observed anytime during the day, but the hours during dawn or dusk usually are the best for viewing wildlife. Moose are fairly tolerant of humans; however, all wildlife should be viewed and photographed from a safe distance.

Although moose provide fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities, people should use caution when encountering these magnificent animals. Moose are extremely large and, like all wildlife, can be potentially dangerous animals. Females often are protective of their young, and males can act aggressively, especially during the fall breeding season. Moose can be territorial and will defend their territories, so never approach too close to any moose. Additionally, when recreating in moose country, you should consider leaving your dogs at home, as even a leashed dog can agitate any moose you encounter on the trails. Moose may charge and even attack pets or humans if provoked.

If a moose is acting aggressive, abnormally or seems disturbed by your presence, back away slowly and leave the area. Signs of aggression may include a moose walking slowly and deliberately toward you, ears laid back, licking its nose, and hair on the back of its neck standing on end. If charged, run! Try to get a tree, vehicle or other large object between you and the moose. If you have an encounter with an aggressive moose, immediately contact your local Division of Wildlife office.

Another concern with a growing moose population in rural agricultural communities is the potential for agricultural conflicts. Fortunately, ranchers operating in moose reintroduction areas have experienced very few conflicts. Growing crop and fence damages typically are minimal. Moose are solitary animals and don't form large herds. Moose occasionally will cause damage to harvested hay crops during the winter. If you experience agricultural damages caused by moose, contact your local Division of Wildlife office.

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