Friday, March 27, 2015

Loose Moose Near Aspen

English: Cow moose
English: Cow moose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
With an early spring rearing its unseasonable head in the Aspen area this year, local’s thoughts are already turning to the return of summer activities like gardening, biking, hiking and generally just getting out and about in the outdoors.

The coming of spring and summer also means the increased wildlife activity, and of human-wildlife encounters in the area as well. While bear-human interactions tend to capture most of the headlines in this arena, I was reminded by Aspen Public Radio recently that human-moose encounters near Aspen also have been increasing over the years.

History of Moose in Colorado

Although it appears to be unclear if moose are native to Colorado, they were re-introduced (or introduced) to the state in the 1970’s in North Park and subsequently to other areas of western Colorado as well. For more details about moose reintroduction in Colorado, please visit this page: https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/WildlifeSpecies/Mammals/MooseReintroductionFactSheet.pdf.

Since these first reintroductions, the moose populations have grown and spread out on their own, and according to Brad Petch of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, “ … are one of our success stories. Moose populations have been increasing pretty steadily in this state…” - http://aspenpublicradio.org/post/moose-population-healthier-ever-colorado.

History of Moose near Aspen

When I was growing up in Aspen, we never really had moose on our minds – I didn’t think any lived in the area. In recent years, however, moose sightings have become somewhat regular occurrences, and local human-moose encounters are becoming more frequent, especially in the Maroon Bells/Lake area.

According to a recent Aspen Public Radio story, the population of moose near Aspen has been increasing since 2005, primarily in the West Maroon Valley, the Thompson Divide and the Frying Pan valley, and in an interview published on July 2, 2014, in the Aspen Times, Stephanie Duckett, a terrestrial biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said that moose have been sighted recently in other areas close to Aspen as well.

Duckett mentioned that moose have been seen near Difficult Campground and on Little Annie Road on the back of Aspen Mountain, and a July 31, 2014, article in the Aspen Times describes a sighting near the Burlingame affordable housing project and even near the Upper Moore ball field near the Aspen Recreation Center - http://www.aspentimes.com/news/12413696-113/moose-aspen-wildlife-area.

Need for a Local Moose Management Plan

 It is not just local sightings that have increased; confrontations seem to be on the rise as well. Aspen Public Radio reports that recently there have been four to six “…close encounters per year between people and moose…” in the White River National Forest.

Due to the recent growth of the population of moose near Aspen and the growing number of local human-moose encounters, the Forest Service is planning to roll out a new moose management plan this summer. This plan will feature signs and educational materials, as well as trail closures near the Maroon Bells and possibly even “no dogs” rules.

While these measures should help, the bottom line seems to be that it is up to individuals to enjoy these beautiful, large, ill-tempered animals from a distance and give them their space.

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