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Beware: Moose on the loose in backcountry

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald file photo

Last summer, a moose waded across Mineral Creek northwest of Silverton.

By John Peel Herald staff writer

Wildlife officials are cautioning the public to be careful and respectful of moose in the backcountry after a recent encounter led to a temporary closure of a popular trail near Aspen.

Moose were transplanted to Southwest Colorado about 20 years ago. They are often seen around Silverton, and generally inhabit creek bottoms with thick willows, said Joe Lewandowski, Southwest Colorado spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

He knows of no recent local incidents involving moose and people but advised to keep your distance and leash your dog if you see a moose.

“Don’t try to get too close. ... Get your binoculars,” Lewandowski said. “If a moose starts looking at you and moving forward, you want to get out of there quick.”

Moose particularly are wary of dogs. In recent run-ins between moose and people around the state, Lewandowski said, all have involved a dog, which moose look at as a predator similar to a wolf.

“Make sure that dog is under control,” Lewandowski said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service temporarily closed the Crater Lake Trail and the scenic loop trail at the far end of the Maroon Bells Scenic Area near Aspen because of concerns about two bull moose seen near the heavily used trails.

After consulting with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Forest Service determined the moose posed a serious risk to the public. Although signs warning of the potential danger are posted in several places, people continue to exhibit risky behavior around the moose, Parks and Wildlife said in a news release Thursday.

The trails reopened Wednesday and remain open under monitoring by wildlife officers and forest rangers. Officials say they will close the trail again if conditions warrant. They plan to meet again next week to consider options for helping people and moose coexist in safety.

Mike Porras, Grand Junction-based spokesman for Parks and Wildlife, said that his agency is trying however it can to educate the public about moose, which often appear to be docile and content chewing grasses or willows.

“After the press release went out (Thursday), I talked to a few people who are shocked to learn that they’re dangerous,” Porras told the Herald on Friday. “People just don’t know.

“We’re taking it seriously because of the potential for conflict,” he said.

The Maroon Bells area is excellent habitat for moose, Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will said in the news release.

“It is also a very popular tourist destination for people from all over the country and world. Closing it was not an easy decision, but we cannot take the chance of someone being seriously injured by a moose,” he said.

Between 1991 and 1992, about 100 moose from Wyoming, Utah and Colorado’s North Park were released near Creede, which is less than 50 miles from Silverton by a straight line. There are now more than 2,300 moose statewide, Parks and Wildlife estimates.

Moose can reach 1,200 pounds and can run up to 35 mph. They do not fear people and will aggressively defend their young and their territory. Moose respond to an approaching dog by trying to kill it because of their resemblance to wolves, a moose’s only natural predator. When the dog runs back to its owner, the moose often follows and attacks the owner as well.

Wildlife officials say that since late 2012, at least six people in Colorado have been injured by moose. Some of the more serious injuries resulted in extended hospitalization and a lengthy recuperation. In every one of these recent cases, dogs either off- or on-leash precipitated the attack.

Visit www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeMoose.aspx for more information about living with moose.

johnp@durangoherald.com

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