Moose are on the loose at Maroon Lake near Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Moose are on the loose at Maroon Lake near Aspen

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

"I came around a bend to find myself face to face with a moose, who apparently thought the race was already over. Clearly as startled as I was, he jumped back to a position that completely blocked the trail." -Sebastian Foltz

ASPEN – A trio of moose are attracting as much attention as the fall colors at Maroon Lake near Aspen these days.

The moose are spotted regularly at and near the lake and its famous peaks, the Maroon Bells, keeping Forest Service personnel busy trying to keep onlookers from getting too close to the unpredictable animals. The task may become part of their jobs for the long term – once moose find a spot they like, they tend to stay, according to wildlife biologist Brandon Diamond of Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Gunnison.

“Once they do find a spot, they show pretty strong fidelity to it, which is apparently what’s happening now,” he said. “As time goes by, people around Aspen are going to see more and more moose.”

It began with a pair of young female moose, or cows, that apparently first showed up in the Maroon Lake area two summers ago. Each has been tagged, making their history a matter of record for wildlife officials.

The cows are siblings, transplanted from Utah in August 2008 after their mother impaled herself on a wrought-iron fence and had to be euthanized, according to Diamond.

“We don’t normally don’t like to move calves without their parents, but these were big, healthy calves. We took a gamble,” he said.

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The calves, then 3 months old, were transplanted to an area southeast of Gunnison where they remained, based on unconfirmed reports, into the fall of 2009.

It’s not unusual for moose to move great distances, though, and the pair, now four years old, made their way north to Aspen, some 40 miles away as the crow flies.

Their presence did not go unnoticed. A bull that wildlife officials believe had been hanging out in the Castle Creek Valley made his way over to the adjacent drainage, the Maroon Creek Valley. He is untagged, but may have come from the Grand Mesa to the southwest, another area where the animals have been introduced to bolster a species that had essentially disappeared from Colorado, according to Perry Will, area wildlife manager in Glenwood Springs.

It is rutting, or mating season for moose, making the animals even feistier than usual, Will said. There’s a potential for conflicts with humans, and the Maroon Bells is one of the most visited spots in the White River National Forest, particularly at the height of the autumn colors.

“It will be a problem, I guarantee it,” Will said. “People try to get too close, trying to take pictures, and moose aren’t too tolerant of people.”

An adult cow can weigh about 700 pounds, according to Diamond, and the bull can tip the scales at up to 1,000 pounds, he said.

Bull moose tend to be solitary creatures outside of the rut and once the cows are impregnated, they will resist his advances, Diamond said. While the bull may move off once his work is done, moose calves may be part of the fauna at Maroon Lake next spring, he said. Calves are typically born in June.

For now, the trio is generating excitement for the crowds at the lake whenever they make an appearance.

“They’re just great, watchable wildlife, for sure,” Diamond said.

Frank Donofrio, a former Aspen resident who now calls Glenwood Springs home, was surprised and delighted to see moose in the trees recently as he drove toward Maroon Lake. An avid photographer, he quickly stopped to snap pictures.

“For me, a hunter and someone who loves wildlife, to see a moose is such a thrill,” he said. “To know that they’re around and that they’re becoming more plentiful is a thrill.”

After Donofrio stopped along the road to watch the animals, another 15 to 20 people congregated there, he said.

“Of course, everyone was falling all over themselves trying to get their cameras,” he said.

At the lake, the Forest Service tries to have an extra staff member on hand when the moose are around, according to the agency’s Matt Kuhn.

“We’ve had some problems with people getting too close,” he said. “People definitely need to be cognizant that these are really big animals.”

janet@aspentimes.com

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