Moose incident underscores potential dangers

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Moose encounters

Moose have very few natural enemies in the wild and, as a result, do not fear humans as much as most other big-game species. Moose tolerate a nearby human longer and at closer distances. They are extremely curious and often will approach humans or houses, and even will look into windows.

For these reasons, it is extremely important to understand moose behavior when living in or visiting the areas they inhabit. Female moose (cows) are very protective of their young (calves) to the point of being dangerous if approached or caught off guard. Bulls also can be aggressive, especially during the breeding season (rut) in the fall. Some bulls have taken over pastures and injured or killed livestock while defending their territories. Moose have also taken over feed yards and haystacks and will defend them from any and all intruders, whether they're livestock or human.

While moose encounters with people are quite common, moose actually cause few problems. However, moose have "treed" people who have approached them too closely, have killed or injured pets or livestock and have chased people away from territories they are defending. Caution and common sense go a long way in preventing potential problems with moose. These formidable beasts need their space and must be given command and respect when observed in the wild.

- Keep pets away as moose can get quite aggressive around them.

- If threatened by a moose, stay calm; do not run away; talk, make your presence known and slowly back off in direction you came.

- Avoid animals that are behaving belligerently or abnormally.

- Never approach moose too closely. Watch and photograph from safe distances using telephoto lenses, binoculars and spotting scopes.

- Move slowly and not directly at them. Back off if they exhibit for signs of aggression, such as the hair standing up on their neck, licking their snouts, cocking their head, rolling their eyes and ears back.

Source: Colorado Division of Wildlife

— A YouTube video featuring a young moose prancing by Slopeside Grill in the midst of Steamboat skier traffic underscores the need for people to stay away from the dangerous animals, a state wildlife official said Monday.

Moose sightings are becoming increasingly common in and around Steamboat Springs, and officials expect that trend to continue in coming years. The mid-February incident at the ski area turned out OK for the moose and onlookers, but past incidents have proven the opposite is always possible.

"People see the animal and want to have the opportunity to see it up close," Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said Monday before turning his attention to the most recent encounter.

"At the beginning of the video, you don't see many people in the frame, but by the end of the video you see people everywhere," he said. "You start to box that animal in and the moose feels pressure to go through people."

The video, which can be viewed below, is just less than two minutes long and was shot outside the sun patio at Slopeside on Feb. 12. It begins with footage of a young girl frolicking among the outdoor tables, but quickly shifts to the form of an immature moose trotting resolutely up the Right-O-Way trail. The Christie Peak Express chairlift is visible in the background and a handful of skiers coming down on either side of the animal are only momentarily distracted.

However, toward the end of the video, when a larger wave of skiers and riders begins to approach the moose, it swerves suddenly to the left and momentarily goes out of the frame.

The videographer, whose name is not revealed by his posting identity, provided a brief written account explaining that ski patrol arrived on the scene and successfully guided the moose away from skier traffic with its snowmobiles.

Hampton said he had no record or awareness that the incident was reported to the DOW.

Steamboat Ski Area spokesman Mike Lane said his company works to raise public awareness of wildlife issues on the slopes without drawing attention to particular animals, which could attract people seeking photographs.

"Typically, these larger animals tend to move out of the area after a few days," Lane said. "However, we are constantly alert and working to make guests aware of all hazards whether from deep snow/tree wells, backcountry (hazards), or wildlife. We have seen a few instances this year where we have worked to inform guests that wildlife may be encountered at any time, anywhere on the mountain as well as precautions" they should be prepared to take. Lane said ski patrol has the discretion to close trails when the presence of larger wild animals is persistent.

Moose sightings have become increasingly common in Steamboat in recent years. The animals have begun spreading out after being reintroduced in North Park, on the opposite side of the Park Range from Steamboat, in 1978.

Many Steamboat residents observed a trio of moose on May 1, 2008, after they left the sanctuary of the willows along Walton Creek and began to lounge in the lawns of condominium projects at the base of the ski area.

However, the most dramatic moose incident in the past 12 months took place Feb. 19, 2008, when an injured bull moose was shot in the driveway of a home on Burgess Creek Road.

The animal had been spotted on the Ted's Ridge, Vogue and Rough Rider Basin ski trails, where ski patrol reported to the DOW that it had charged skiers who came too close.

Later in the day, the moose charged people walking down Burgess Creek Road who threw skis at it to deter it.

Hampton said the recent scene on Right-O-Way came close to something similar. Had the moose felt completely hemmed in, it might have felt the need to bolt through the line of skiers and pedestrians. That behavior could have been perceived as an attack, which in turn might have exceeded the DOW's threshold that tells it an animal must be destroyed.

Encounters between moose and humans aren't likely to decline in coming years, Hampton said. The opposite is more likely.

In 2008, he said, 20 moose were introduced in the headwaters of the White River east of Meeker. The natural tendency will be for animals from the population north of Steamboat to find their way to contact with the moose now establishing themselves in the Flat Tops mountains to the south. Consequently, the population of moose will continue to grow and spread.

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