Reports of a moose running around Tuesday, Jan. 21, in the town of Silverthorne have prompted local law enforcement officials and U.S. Forest Service rangers to remind the public about the potential dangers of living in moose country.
The moose, reportedly a cow, was spotted at 7 p.m. by a motorist near the intersection of Colorado Highway 9 and 13th Street. The motorist almost hit the moose, according to reports.
Although there weren’t any breeding moose in Colorado until the late 1970s, when they were introduced in the Walden area in Jackson County northeast of Steamboat Springs, local officials said moose encounters in Summit County have become more prevalent in recent years as individual animals expand throughout the state in search of their own territory.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many moose call Summit County home, Mike Porras, public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said according to 2012 estimates there are more than 2,000 moose in the state, about 1,500 of which call the state’s northwest region home. Trying to narrow those numbers by game management unit, Porras estimated there are about 420 head in the Gore data analysis unit, which runs from GMU 14 near Steamboat Springs southeast to GMU 371 near Silverthorne and Breckenridge.
In addition to increasing numbers, Ashley Nettles, wildlife biologist for the Dillon Ranger District, said human encounters with moose also are increasing because of the animals’ habits.
Unlike northwest Colorado’s elk, moose are not migratory animals and do not roam vast amounts of land like their cousins in Alaska, Nettles said. Moose that do fancy Summit County as a place to settle down control smaller pockets of land that is restricted by roads and highways, towns and ski resorts.
However, like almost all animals, moose will travel greater distances during the winter in search of forage or cover, Nettles said. In Summit County most of that movement takes place from higher to lower elevations, and vice-a-versa. Moose also travel the most at dawn and dusk — the times when motorist visibility is at its worst.
Taking those movement patterns into consideration, Nettles said it’s not surprising a moose was spotted along Highway 9.
First, the Blue River, which runs adjacent to Highway 9, is the perfect place to forage for food, Nettles said. Second, moose will often travel along plowed roads not only because it’s easier and saves energy, but also because plow trucks often expose forage growing along the highway.
Although reports show automobile-moose collisions also are on the rise, Nettles said local residents should be wary of moose when recreating in Summit.
“Anytime you’re on trail or off trail in Summit County, you’re in moose habitat,” Nettles said. “Summit County offers everything moose need, from wooded areas at high elevation to open valley floors with nice riparian habitat.”
By far the most common people to find themselves face-to-face with a moose are dog owners, Nettles said, especially dog owners who aren’t very keen on obeying local leash laws.
“The only natural predator moose have are wolves,” Nettles said. “The closest thing we have here to wolves are our dogs and, when threatened, a moose can trample dogs and people very, very easily.”
Silverthorne police chief Mark Hanschmidt learned that lesson the hard way about eight to 10 years ago when his dog found himself between a cow and its calf in the Wilowbrook subdivision. The cow charged him, Hanschmidt said.
“The best thing to do when you encounter a moose is back away slowly and make sure it has an escape route, so it doesn’t feel cornered,” Nettles said. “If it does charge, then you definitely want to run and try to put a large object between you and the moose, like a tree, a car or a rock.”
In light of recent talks about a mountain lion potentially living in Cucumber Gulch in Breckenridge, Nettles said she is far more worried about moose encounters than she is about mountain lion or bear encounters when people are hiking in Summit County.
Any moose of any age or gender can be triggered to charge a person, Nettles said. Although researchers don’t know what all those triggers are, “The biggest danger is people becoming complacent and assuming moose are familiar or have become habituated with us.”