Efforts aims to avoid conflicts with moose, bears at Maroon Bells | AspenTimes.com

Efforts aims to avoid conflicts with moose, bears at Maroon Bells

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Maroon Bells visitor Scotty Stein captured this picture of a moose wading through the water in a prior year.
Scotty Stein/Special to The Aspen Times |

The U.S. Forest Service is asking visitors to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area to adjust behavior this summer so that they don’t disturb the resident moose and bears.

Visitors walking on the designated Scenic Loop trail adjacent to Maroon Lake will be “discouraged” from bringing their dogs, even if they are on a leash.

“It just really agitates the moose,” said Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer.

In another wildlife-related move, the Forest Service will strongly encourage anyone backpacking to Crater Lake, West Maroon Valley and on either side of Buckskin Pass to carry bear-proof containers to store their food and trash.

Schroyer said a special order requiring use of bear-proof containers expired in the fall. It was approved on an emergency basis last summer. Without a special order in place, the Forest Service cannot enforce the use of containers through fines, Schroyer said, but Forest Service officials and volunteers from the nonprofit Forest Conservancy will stress to backpackers that they won’t want to travel without them. Hanging food in trees doesn’t work in that area, she said, in large part because food cannot be secured far enough out of reach of bruins.

Just as there is no special order through the forest-management process that requires the bear-proof containers, there is no order in place prohibiting dogs around the Scenic Loop trail.

“I don’t have a special order yet saying ‘absolutely no dogs allowed,’” Schroyer said. Forest rangers and volunteer workers will seek voluntary compliance.

Officials with Colorado Parks and Wildlife have previously said that when moose see a dog, they think it’s a wolf. Their instincts are to charge and stomp the predator.

“Moose attacks are because of dogs, pretty much,” Perry Will, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said this week.

There are alternatives to the Scenic Loop. Dogs on leashes are welcomed on the Crater Lake Trail, located in the forest further away from Maroon Lake from a trailhead that starts in the parking lot.

The Forest Service closed trails in June 2014 after conflicts between humans and moose. In one case, a couple from Boston came within 50 yards of a moose to take its picture. The temperamental ungulate got angry and charged. No one was hurt.

Moose have been hanging out in increasing numbers at the Maroon Bells area and have been expanding their range, according to wildlife officers and Forest Service workers in the field. Will said previously that moose will make a home anywhere in the Roaring Fork River Basin where there is water and willows. Moose sightings have been plentiful on the outskirts of Aspen.

A moose was struck and killed in Maroon Valley last year. Coincidentally, it was on the same day environmentalists gathered at Aspen Highlands to celebrate the 50th anniversary of passage of the Wilderness Act by U.S. Congress.

Schroyer said there have been moose and bear sightings at the Maroon Bells Scenic Area this spring, but no incidents have occurred. One Forest Service worker said a moose calf was spotted.

Bus service to the popular area started last week, so the number of visitors is just starting to climb. The Forest Service plans to get more aggressive in dealing with conflicts between moose and humans rather than react to issues. Interpretative signs will be posted, and volunteers and rangers will step up patrols and education efforts about living with wildlife.