Study seeks to surveil growing Summit County moose population |

Study seeks to surveil growing Summit County moose population

Alli Langley
Elissa Knox, Summit County district wildlife officer, helped collar an adult female moose for a Colorado Parks and Wildlife study that will collect data from the animal's GPS coordinates.
Courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife |


Colorado’s adult moose can run 35 miles per hour, weigh up to 1,000 pounds and stand 6 feet tall at the shoulder. Moose are the largest members of the deer family and are found in the northern regions of North America, Europe and Asia. Moose prefer habitat near lakes, rivers or wetlands, where they feed on young plants including shrubs, aquatic plants, grasses, mosses, willow and aspen. By 2013, moose inhabited northern forests in 15 states including Colorado.


Look for moose signs — large tracks, droppings, browsed willows — along the edges of willow bottoms and aspen or pine forests.

Moose tracks are very large and often show dewclaws (a rudimentary claw or small hoof not reaching the ground) in snow or mud.

High spots looking down into drainages afford excellent vantage points. Moose are excellent swimmers and very much at home in the water.

Drive slowly along logging roads on national forest lands that parallel drainages.

Moose sounds are limited to grunting, and bulls are the most vocal during the mating season.

Moose don’t herd in large groups like other big game species, even in winter. They travel in small family groups or remain secluded.


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 signs of aggression, like the hair raising on their neck, licking their snouts, cocking their head, rolling their eyes and ears back.

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 the direction you came.

Avoid animals that are behaving belligerently or abnormally.

Source: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

For months, people in Summit County have been reporting sightings of a mama moose and her two calves around Breckenridge.

Her twins are usually easy to see from a distance, but the average person might not notice the moose cow wears a collar: a black strip around her neck with a neon-orange, hand-sized label that reads “2.”

The collar is equipped with radio and GPS technology, and its moose bearer was one of two such animals tranquilized and collared last winter as part of a Colorado Parks and Wildlife study.

Another 15 moose were collared in the South Park area, and researchers hope to soon place three more collars on moose in Summit County. Every day, at noon and midnight, the collars radio the GPS locations of the moose to researchers.

The study aims to improve wildlife management practices by giving Parks and Wildlife biologists a better understanding of moose travel patterns and behavior.

The moose living in South Park and the Upper Blue River Basin are currently managed separately by different wildlife management districts, but that could change if biologists find the moose are sharing the same ranges and habitats.

Parks and Wildlife biologist Shannon Schaller, who has helped with the study, said she’s already noticed moose from both areas crossing over Hoosier, Boreas and Georgia passes.


Parks and Wildlife employees also placed collars on moose in four other areas around the state, Schaller said, and they will continue to collect the GPS data for about five years, or for however long the collars’ batteries last.

Collars will stay on through the life of the animals. Officials won’t make efforts to remove the collars after the study because they’re not hindering the ability of the moose to feed or move, and finding and tranquilizing them to remove the collars would be more invasive and stressful for the animals.

Of the 17 moose collared so far, Schaller said, three already have died. One died of unknown causes, one was hit by a car near Woodland Park and one was killed during hunting season.

She hopes the collars returned to the agency from those incidents can be replaced on other moose, but collaring moose isn’t so easy.

Summit County district wildlife officer Elissa Knox was part of the team that collared the two moose near Breckenridge.

Whenever Parks and Wildlife needs to tranquilize moose, managers have to coordinate a team of four to six people, and everything is done somewhat last-minute as moose don’t exactly tell the wildlife officers where they’ll be.

This winter both Breckenridge moose in the study were tranquilized near the town’s Nordic centers, she said. “They really like those packed trails. It’s easy for them in the winter.”

The Gold Run and Breckenridge Nordic centers allowed the wildlife officers to close their cross-country skiing trails and drive their gear in on snowmobiles to get closer.

Knox said moose typically are tranquilized with a dart gun from about 20 yards away.

Then once the animal falls to the ground in several feet of soft snow, the wildlife managers strap on snowshoes and approach. One person sets to work placing the radio collar and ear tag, while another person administers supplemental oxygen to the moose and monitors its breathing.

Someone else might have to watch the moose cow’s calf and make sure it doesn’t cause any problems, and then a couple people stand guard for any onlookers.

Even though Knox said the wildlife managers had closed off the trails near the moose they were collaring at Gold Run Nordic Center, a man still approached with his dog off leash. The dog chased the moose calf, which then turned and chased the dog and almost injured the man.

Once the wildlife managers finish their work, they administer a reversal drug, back away and wait for the moose to wake up in 10 to 30 minutes.

Knox said the moose with the calf at Gold Run woke up, went straight to her calf and the pair walked off together.

That calf has since left its mom, and the collared moose bore twins this year, she said, evidence that the experience didn’t affect her.


Moose aren’t native to Summit County, according to the agency.

Historical records dating to the 1850s indicate that moose wandered into northern Colorado from Wyoming, but the animals never established a stable breeding population. Most historic sightings come from hunters who saw single bull moose.

During the 1960s and the early ’70s, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (now Parks and Wildlife) worked with the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the general public and local ranchers and selected the North Park area in the Routt National Forest near Walden as the first site for introducing moose to prime Colorado habitat.

In 1978, state wildlife experts transplanted 24 male and female moose from Wyoming and Utah to create a breeding population in North Park and provide hunting opportunities. Over the years, more moose from Wyoming, Utah and Colorado’s growing population were introduced to other areas of western Colorado.

Moose were never introduced to Summit, so the ones here have wandered from areas to the north and west.

By 2012, the moose introduction had established a breeding population of about 2,300 moose in Colorado. That year 16,500 people applied for 219 moose hunting licenses, and 185 moose were harvested.

While the moose population in other states has declined, Colorado’s population continues to grow.

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