Steamboat Springs Twenty members of the North Park moose herd have a new address in Rio Blanco County this week.
The moose were captured last week from the willow bottoms in Jackson County, on the other side of the Park Range from Steamboat Springs, Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said. A gun fires a net to entangle the animals. The Steamboat office of the DOW supervised the transplant operation.
Once sedated, blindfolded and hobbled, the moose were helicoptered to a staging area in a sling. Finally, Hampton said, the animals were put into horse trailers and trucked to the White River drainage east of Meeker on the edge of the Flat Tops. They will spread out and presumably mate with 24 moose previously relocated to the Flat Tops from Utah.
The DOW brought in the animals to increase the moose population in different areas. The new moose should add some genetic diversity to the herd in the Flat Tops area.
Moose were first reintroduced into North Park from Wyoming in 1978 when a dozen were turned loose in the Walden area. That herd had grown to more than 500 animals in 2009. The 20 transplants left Jackson County with 490 animals.
“We consider North Park to be Colorado’s moose savings account,” Hampton said. “Along with bighorn sheep, they are the wildlife people most want to see.”
The moose that spend a portion of the winter along Walton Creek on Steamboat’s southern limits are kin to the North Park herd.
That thriving population has naturally created a herd of 200 moose in Middle Park and has contributed to a herd of 300 to 400 animals on the headwaters of the Rio Grande near Creede.
Last week’s transplant operation required a fixed wing airplane and a helicopter, Hampton said. The DOW contracts with a private business, Quicksilver Air, to do some of the specialized work. People in the airplane spot the moose from above and use GPS coordinates to determine whether the animals are on public or private land. The DOW captures animals on private property only with permission.
The coordinates are fed to the helicopter and ground crews. The chopper swoops in to allow a marksman with a net gun to snare the moose. The net subdues the animal’s behavior, Hampton said.
The helicopter then touches down so that the same man, known as a mugger, can dash in and use a syringe to administer a mild sedative to the animal.
In about half the cases, Hampton said, the mugger must physically knock the groggy animal to the ground before blindfolding and hobbling it.
Hampton said one moose struggled out of its sling while airborne beneath the helicopter last week and died from the fall.
“It’s rare, and we hate to lose one,” Hampton said. “But we know that whenever we put hands on animals, we could lose 5 to 10 percent of them. We weigh the risks and feel that the benefits to Colorado are worth the risk.”
He added that Quicksilver previously transplanted 48 moose from Utah to Colorado without losing an animal.