Wildlife officials urge public to give moose space after incidents at Maroon Lake

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Sightings of moose, such as this one last summer, have become common in the Maroon Lake area the last few years.
Forest Service/Courtesy photo | Forest Service/Courtesy photo

A scenic loop on the upper end of Maroon Lake was closed briefly last weekend to prevent gawkers from straying too close to moose after a bull got upset by some hikers with a dog, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

“We have that trail right by the water and (the moose) are right there,” said Martha Moran, recreation staff supervisor for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. “We had to close that off, and people weren’t happy.”

No one was injured in the moose encounter, said Peggy Jo Trish, supervisor of the Maroon Bells facilities. The hikers said the hair on the neck and back of a bull was raised after it saw a dog. The party backed a safer distance away.

A similar incident occurred June 23 at Crater Lake, upstream from Maroon Lake, Trish said, and she heard there might have been another incident this week.

The trail was reopened late Saturday. Forest Service officials are discussing a longer-term moose management plan for the Maroon Bells area. They will discuss if dogs should be prohibited on the scenic loop trail and kept on the main trail between Maroon Lake and Crater Lake, she said. No decisions have been made.

Officials with Colorado Parks and Wildlife fear it’s a matter of time before an over-eager wildlife observer or a hiker with a dog provokes a moose attack.

“The photo op isn’t worth getting stomped,” said Perry Will, Area 8 wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. He oversees an area that includes the Roaring Fork Valley.

Mature cows and bulls weigh up to 1,200 pounds, Will said. They are usually “solitary critters” with the exception of cows with calves, he said. They don’t like being disturbed by people, and they especially don’t like dogs, which they associate with wolves, one of their few natural predators, according to Will.

A moose will charge a dog with the intention of stomping it. Loose dogs often retreat to their owners, bringing an angry moose with them. Although no moose incidents have resulted in injuries to humans in the Maroon Bells, there have been injuries in other parts of the state.

“Every moose incident we have has been dog-related,” Will said.

But moose also will get agitated when people come too close.

“People aren’t used to moose,” Will said. “If they’re focusing on you, you’re too close.”

Mike Porras, a spokesman for parks and wildlife, said moose are “big, fast, powerful animals, and they’re not afraid of people.” Moose will stand their ground rather than retreat when people come too close.

“They’ll sit there and look at you like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’” Porras said.

Moran agreed that people underestimate the reaction of moose.

“People are thinking that moose act like deer and elk, and they don’t,” she said. Deer and elk typically flee, unless protecting calves.

Staff at Maroon Bells facilities believe they have identified seven different moose, according to Moran. Sightings were rare before last summer. This summer, the moose started appearing about three weeks ago. They generally roam Maroon Lake and the Stein Park wetland, though they range farther, according to Moran.

Stephanie Duckett, a terrestrial biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said in an interview in January that the Maroon Valley moose likely wandered over the divide from the Crested Butte side of the mountains. Moose were introduced along the Taylor River in the Almont area, between Crested Butte and Gunnison, she said, and they are branching out as the population increases.

Moose also were reintroduced to the Grand Mesa area and settled in the Crystal River Valley, Duckett said previously.

Moran said there is evidence that moose are spreading in the Aspen area beyond Maroon Valley. “We just had a report of moose in Difficult, a couple of them,” she said, referring to the Difficult Campground area about four miles east of Aspen on Highway 82.

A moose also was spotted Tuesday on Little Annie Road on the back of Aspen Mountain.

Porras said the state wildlife agency wants people to enjoy wildlife as long as they view from a safe distance. People who stray too close can be subject to a fine for harassing wildlife, he said.

If problems intensify, the moose can pay the ultimate price. Even if a human wanders too close or a dog provokes a confrontation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s policy is that a moose must be destroyed if it injures a human. Will said nobody wants that. Wildlife officers and the Forest Service have posted signs at Maroon Bells explaining the need to give moose their space.