Grand Mesa Moose Introduction
Colorado biologists and district wildlife managers this winter will begin transporting about two dozen moose from Utah to the Grand Mesa National Forest east of Grand Junction as part of efforts to introduce more of the giant, solitary deer species to the region.
The move comes more than three years after the start of a grassroots movement spurred by Grand Valley residents who wanted to see moose roaming across the Grand Mesa, a basalt-rich geological formation that extends some 50 miles and is said to be the largest flat-topped mesa in the world.
"People love to see moose," said Van Graham, a Colorado Division of Wildlife terrestrial biologist who co-authored a habitat analysis to determine how many moose the Grand Mesa could support over the long run. "Ranchers have not found them to be a problem, the hunters like them, and the watchable wildlife people like them. It's been a positive reintroduction in North Park and other parts of Colorado."
State wildlife biologists hope to transplant some 25 Shiras moose per year over the next three years with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining population of 150 moose on the Grand Mesa in six to seven years. The transplants from Utah's Uintah Valley to Colorado are scheduled to begin in December or January, and will involve trapping and testing the animals for disease.
Grand Valley residents first approached the DOW with a moose introduction plan in the spring of 2001. Biologists were encouraged by the success of moose reintroductions in North Park and other parts of Colorado, and decided to meet with local ranchers and other stakeholders to hear their concerns.
On federal public lands like the Grand Mesa, state and federal wildlife managers must balance the interests of wildlife habitats, livestock grazing land, and hunting, recreation and wildlife watching opportunities.
Among the concerns raised at public meetings was whether moose would compete with domestic livestock on grazing land, and whether the large animals would have a negative impact on other wildlife species and the local ecosystem. Moose forage mostly in aspen and willow thickets in riparian areas and do not herd up in large numbers like deer and elk. Hence, wildlife managers do not foresee any grazing competition or considerable impact on habitats.
During their habitat analysis, wildlife biologists determined the Grand Mesa could sustain as many as 1,912 moose in the summer, and a high of 464 in winter, providing the moose use winter habitat down to an elevation of 7,000 feet. Generally, moose do not migrate long distances like deer and elk because they are tall enough to weather snow drifts as high as 5 feet.
No matter how large the Grand Mesa moose population gets, the DOW has ensured ranchers, sportsmen's groups, and others that it would immediately deal with any wayward moose that cause problems for people or other animals.
"We get a rogue moose—we'll kill it. We're not going to allow it to be a danger to human health and safety, or hurt someone's livestock," said Ron Velarde, a DOW regional manager in Grand Junction.
Because of their unique physical traits and behavior, moose tend to stir up a lot of attention when they are observed in the wild. Wildlife managers said people might not stop to watch a herd of deer or elk, but they nearly always stop to watch a moose. For hunters, moose can be coveted trophies.
Of the three North American moose subspecies, Shiras moose (Alces alces shirasi) are the smallest and can be found in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and parts of Canada.
Despite their relatively small size, Shiras moose are large cervids that can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and reach heights of more than 7 feet. They lead solitary lives and are susceptible to predation by wolves, black bear, and mountain lion. Though they generally avoid human contact, they can become unpredictable during the rut and may charge at people and cars.
As with any wildlife, experts advise people not to harass moose. Observers should watch moose from a distance, giving the animal as much room as possible. Wildlife watchers should make sure they do not block a moose trail or escape route, and make sure small children and pets are safe from harm.
Feeding moose and all big-game animals is illegal in Colorado. Fed moose quickly become habituated, and can be very aggressive when they expect a treat. A moose cow can become aggressive when a person or animal comes between her and her calf.
For more information about the Grand Mesa moose reintroduction effort, visit http://wildlife.state.co.us/species/moose/reintroduction_grandmesa.asp
For general information about moose and how to live near them visit http://wildlife.state.co.us/education/livingwithwildlife/moosecountry.asp
For moose safety tips, visit http://dnr.state.co.us/news/press.asp?pressid=2586