DOW Completes Habitat Assessment for Moose

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Acting on strong public support and interest, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) recently completed a habitat assessment for a proposed moose reintroduction in western Colorado’s Grand Mesa National Forest.

The assessment was aimed at estimating moose forage on the Grand Mesa and to help establish the potential moose numbers that could be sustained on a long-term basis. The assessment results will be presented during an informational meeting on Wednesday, June 16, from 7-9 p.m. at the Adams Mark Hotel in Grand Junction, which is located at 743 Horizon Drive. DOW biologists will attend the meeting to discuss the results, present background information on moose biology, and answer questions about moose. Additional DOW representatives will also be on-hand to discuss the future of the proposed moose reintroduction.

Van Graham, a Grand Junction-based DOW terrestrial biologist for the northwest region, led the assessment team.

“We set out to make sure that there would be adequate forage, in both summer and winter, for a population of moose,” he said.

Graham said the team also had to make sure that the presence of the moose would not create food shortages for other wildlife species and domestic livestock on the Mesa.

“Moose diets can contain a wide variety of vegetation, but they don’t typically feed on the same plant species as deer, elk, and domestic cattle. Moose aren’t generally considered to be grazers, but prefer to dine on willow, aspen, and other mountain shrubs. There may be minimal competition with other wildlife for shrubs, but the solitary nature of the moose means they aren’t likely to over-eat in a particular area,” he said.

Moose, the largest members of the deer family, have been observed in Colorado in small numbers for many years. The first significant breeding population was introduced by the DOW in North Park in the late 1970s. A second introduction near Creede has also proven successful in recent years. The North Park and Creede populations as well as moose populations in Middle Park, the Laramie River Valley, and northwest of Fort Collins are doing well and are able to support a hunting season with a limited number of licenses for bulls and cows.

DOW Big Game Manager John Ellenberger said small moose populations exist in other parts of the state but managers don’t think they are ready to support hunting seasons at this time.

The idea of establishing moose on the Grand Mesa has been around for decades, but was most recently brought to the DOW by local sportsmen for serious consideration in 2001.

The DOW held several meetings with Grand Mesa landowners to gather input, answer questions, and address initial concerns.

Additional meetings included ranchers and wildlife managers from the North Park and Creede areas who expressed support for the moose programs in their areas. Creede rancher Chuck Fairchild said his initial concerns about forage, game damage, and moose behavior, never materialized and the whole experience has been positive.

Following initial meetings, DOW biologists undertook the work of completing the Grand Mesa habitat assessment. During the project, they identified, mapped, and measured willow stands. The information from the mapping and measurement project was used to develop an estimate of habitat carrying capacity that could be used to determine the size of a moose population that could be supported on the Grand Mesa.