Moose on the rise in Colorado
July 24, 2010
One of Colorado’s biggest animals is making a big comeback, thanks to a three-decade-long reintroduction effort by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Moose (Alces alces), the largest species in the deer family, were a rare sight in Colorado and other Western states during by the mid-1800s. And while it’s unknown how extensive moose populations were in Colorado prior to white settlement, some wildlife experts speculate that they may have been abundant.
“Tribes and early settlers probably hunted them out,” said Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “They’re not afraid of people, they don’t run, and they provide a lot of high-quality lean meat. They likely got whacked pretty quickly.”
Fifty years ago, healthy moose populations could only be found in Canada.
“They thrived in places where the bugs were so thick that nobody wanted to hunt them,” Hampton said.
As hunting regulations were put in place in the 20th century, moose populations began to spread southward again. In 1978 and 1979, the Division of Wildlife reintroduced the species into Colorado’s northern mountains by transporting individuals from Utah and Wyoming. From there, moose have spread relatively quickly into nearby counties, including Summit County and areas in the Front Range.
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“Based on the incredible success we’ve seen with breeding populations, and the number of twins we see, this habitat is very, very good for moose,” Hampton said.
Moose typically have one calf, but in good habitat, females will have twins or even triplets.
Since the original introductions, wildlife officials have brought more moose into Colorado, most recently on the Grand Mesa, near Grand Junction. The Grand Mesa reintroduction effort began in 2005, and has included about 75 individuals. Today, the Division of Wildlife estimates the now self-sustaining population to total about 150 moose, with the potential to grow as large as 450.
Transplants have often come from Utah, where large expanses of private land make hunting-based population control less effective. During relocations, wildlife officials wrap a moose in a “burrito” and airlift the 1,200-pound animal from its habitat via helicopter to a waiting horse trailer. Wildlife veterinarians conduct a medical check and collar the animal before a team of eight to 10 people lift it into the trailer for transport to its new home. The Utah Division of Wildlife also provides Colorado with moose that wander too close to highways and urban areas.
Inside Summit County, moose sightings are common along the Blue River and other local waterways. Moose make their homes in forested areas close to lakes and marshes. They have become one of the top two watchable Colorado wildlife species, along with bighorn sheep. However, moose are highly territorial and can be aggressive toward humans and their pets: Wolves are moose’s main predators, so they have a strong aversion to dogs.
“If all of the sudden your dog is running toward you with a 1,200-pound animal in tow, you’ve got a problem,” Hampton said.
Hampton advised keeping dogs on their leashes in moose habitat.