Irene Shonle, Director CSU Extension in Gilpin County. As most people are aware, our moose population is burgeoning. Moose only have twins when habitat is good, and if you see a cow with babies around here, she almost always has two. What was a rare sight is now fairly commonplace, and moose now number over 2,300 in the state.
Our population explosion is in contrast to the dramatic declines in Minnesota, Montana, and Wyoming. It is unclear why they are declining there, but some suspect ticks and warmer winters. The lack of wolves in Colorado also give the moose a boost.
Even as the wildlife watchers in us rejoice, we have to adjust to this new reality. It will take time to learn to live with our new neighbors, but we’ll soon know the drill as well as we do for bears. The most important thing is not to be fooled by their gentle, lumbering appearance. They can run up to 35 miles per hour, and have a vicious kick that can kill or maim a dog (or people; two women in Gilpin County were attacked in May and landed in the hospital).
Moose won’t often attack a human being unless they feel threatened or they have newborn calves with them. However, when dogs get into the mix, the whole game changes dramatically. Moose don’t differentiate between dogs and their mortal enemies, wolves, and once provoked by dogs, they can and will attack both the dogs and the nearby humans. Even if you’ve never walked your dog on a leash before, it may be a good idea to start, especially if you’ve been seeing a lot of moose in your neighborhood.
Here’s how we can get along with these big beasts (tips from the Washington State Division of Fish and Wildlife).
Give any moose in any environment lots of space. If you’re hiking in the woods, yield the trail in whatever way works – back off, change directions, and enjoy the animal only from a distance. Don’t try to get up close for that perfect picture!
Be especially alert around cow moose in late May and throughout June since there is a good chance a newborn calf is around. If you see a calf and not a cow, be extremely careful moving out of the area; you may have walked between mother and baby, which is probably the most dangerous place to be.
If you see a moose by your house, bring dogs inside. If you’re walking with your dog and see a moose, keep your dog leashed and quiet and take an alternate route out of the area.
If you are driving and come upon a moose standing or walking in the road, yield to the moose. It may be trying to rest or save energy, and if you try to move it, your motor vehicle could come under attack. If you are driving at night in an area that is frequented by moose, slow down and be extra cautious – a collision with a moose could be fatal for both of you.
Many moose charges are bluffs or warnings, but you need to take them all seriously. Even a calf, which weighs 300 to 400 pounds by its first winter, can injure you.
A moose that sees you and walks slowly towards you is not trying to be your friend. It is probably warning you to keep away (or looking for a handout if it’s been fed). It may signal an attack by laying its ears back, raising the long hairs on its shoulder hump, stomping the ground, or swinging its head in your direction. If you see it licking its lips you are far too close!
Back off. Look for the nearest tree, fence, building or other obstruction to hide behind. Unlike with cougars, bears or even dogs, it’s usually a good idea to run from a moose because usually it won’t chase you very far. You can run around a tree or other obstacle faster than a moose can.
If a moose knocks you down, it may continue running, or start stomping and kicking. Curl up in a ball, protect your head with your arms and hands, and hold still. Don’t move or try to get up until the moose moves a safe distance away, or it may renew its attack.
The CSU Gilpin County Extension Office is located at the Exhibit Barn, 230 Norton Drive, Black Hawk, CO 80422, 303-582-9106, www.extension.colo state.edu/gilpin.
Colorado State University Extension provides unbiased, research-based information about, horticulture, natural resources, and 4-H youth development. Colorado State University Extension is dedicated to serving all people on an equal and nondiscriminatory basis.
PHOTOS BY Teri Metallo