Meet the Bullwinkles: With moose thriving in Steamboat, here’s some history and safety tips
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs’ first moose encounter was a startling, violent affair.
J.C. Woods and George Kemry were hunting for elk along Burgess Creek in November, 1941, when Woods shot at what he thought was just another large bull elk.
The animal fled deeper into the woods, and Kemry was tasked with going into the timber on Storm Mountain to finish the kill.
“Much to Kemry’s surprise, he was charged by an infuriated bull moose …,” the Oak Creek Times reported.
Kemry reportedly side-stepped the charging animal and fired another shot to kill it.
It was then the two men accidentally made some history.
“As far as can be learned, this was the first moose ever to be killed in Colorado,” the Times proclaimed.
The head of the moose from that first encounter can still be viewed today on a plaque that hangs inside the entrance of the historic Routt County Courthouse in Steamboat Springs.
Wildlife officials speculated at the time that the young moose had wandered into Routt County from Wyoming.
The Oak Creek Times reported that bullets were found lodged in the moose’s hind quarters and that it was believed it was shot in Wyoming and “come here in its fright.”
For several more decades, moose encounters in Routt County were rare, and even the sightings of tracks made the front pages of local papers.
In 1951, Jack Kelton, of Clark, had one of the most memorable and entertaining moose encounters in the area.
Kelton was burning brush on his ranch when he got bored and started to yodel.
According to the Steamboat Pilot, Kelton’s yodeling spurred a bull moose to come crashing through the brush, “definitely answering the call of the wild.”
“Yodeling forgotten, Jack took to his heels to get out of the way of that big moose.”
The game warden at the time speculated that the moose were “just finding out what all the rest of us have known. Colorado is the very best place to live.”
Today, the warden’s words ring true.
Moose sightings in Steamboat are no longer the rare legends that occasionally made it into the local newspapers.
They stroll through City Market.
They stop by City Hall.
They lick our cars and have their own following on Facebook and Twitter.
And last week, a trio of them lounged for hours in the driveway of The Steamboat Grand as hundreds of bluegrass fans, shuttle drivers and valet attendants gawked.
How did moose go from being the mysterious visitors from Wyoming to a common sight?
And as more of these large animals walk onto the ski slopes and share our sidewalks, what’s in store for them?
By all accounts, moose are thriving in Steamboat Springs and Northwest Colorado.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials estimate about 75 moose currently live in the Game Management Unit that encompasses most of Routt County.
The animals are doing so well, hunting tags in the area have increased from only four in 2011 to 11 last year.
This winter, about eight moose have been living on Mount Werner, and seven have been seen in town.
The high frequency of twins being born is the greatest indicator that the moose population is finding good habitat and is in good health.
How did so many of them get here in the first place?
Steamboat’s moose population descended from a group of moose that were transplanted in nearby Walden from Utah and Wyoming nearly 40 years ago.
In 1985, there were an estimated 100 moose living in the North Park area.
Today, that estimate has grown to between 500 and 600 animals.
A release of moose near Meeker in 2009 brought more of the animals to the southern portion of Routt county.
“They’re a great species to see in the wild,” CPW Area Wildlife Manager Kris Middledorf said Wednesday. “They’re photogenic. They’re aesthetic. And I think there’s a lot of tolerance to seeing these animals here. But at the same time, it has to come with a lot of public awareness and safety.”
With moose becoming more common in town, Steamboat Today asked Middledorf some questions that have been on our minds, and the minds of our readers.
Do we have any idea of how many moose are now living in our area?
Steamboat Springs is part of Game Management Unit 14, which encompasses an area south to Rabbit Ears Pass along U.S. Highway 40, west to the Continental Divide, north to Hahn’s Peaks and to the east along U.S. Highway 40 and Routt County Road 129 along the Elk River. It has been estimated that approximately 75 moose live in this area, depending on the time of year.
• The North Park population is between 500 to 600 moose.
• In the Northwest region, there are approximately 1,630 moose.
• Statewide, there are approximately 2,500 moose.
It feels like we’ve had more moose in town this winter than usual. Are there reasons why they leave the surrounding forest and wilderness and move into urban areas?
This year, there haven’t been more moose than the past couple years. However, there has been an increase in moose during the past five years and certainly the past two decades. This is likely due to the expansion of the moose population from North Park and also healthy reproductive rates of moose here locally because of high quality habitat.
Snowfall in late December and January, with back-to-back storms, may have pushed moose into locations where they are more visible and where they can move more freely without needing to trudge through deep snow. This is one of the reasons why moose are often seen along bike paths, sidewalks and in the ski area . Moose, like other animals, will find the path of least resistance where they can access forage.
What’s up with all the twins being born?
Reproductive rate in moose is tied to habitat quality and abundance. With available high quality habitat, twinning rates increase. In expanding moose populations, twinning rates are generally high and decline as habitat reaches carrying capacity. Regardless of what people consider moose habitat, moose have shown us they consider urban areas (Steamboat and Walden) to be good available moose habitat, full of high-quality forage, thus, the high twinning rate of moose around town.
Why are moose thriving in our area and declining in other parts of the country?
A bull moose hangs out in Dana Stoner’s backyard. Stoner took the photo while enjoying a meal on a back deck.
Moose are pretty new to Colorado having only been here for 40 years. Moose are below carrying capacity in most areas of Colorado. Colorado does not have wolves, which are a major predator of moose. Other theories include increased climate variability, parasite loads from winter ticks, other parasites possibly related to interactions with other species, such as white-tailed deer, and a combination of these factors in association with reduced habitat conditions. Currently, there are many of research projects underway in areas where moose are declining in an effort to find out why.
However, in Colorado, we are fortunate to have high quality habitat, and management plans in place to maintain moose at healthy population levels.
What role has hunting played in growing and supporting the local moose population? Are moose hunted in our area?
Hunting plays a key role in managing moose populations, along with a variety of other big game species. Hunting is the primary tool we have available, and it’s a win-win situation. Sportsmen play a key role, not only in the harvest, but also in funding CPW, which includes research projects that help us better understand moose and their habits.
Currently, in GMU 14, we have seven cow licenses and four bull licenses. In 2016, hunters had 100 percent success, i.e. all tags were filled. Bull moose hunting, in particular, is a highly coveted license and can take many years to get, due to the number of people applying versus the number of licenses available. We want to strike a balance between providing a quality hunt and also keeping the moose population at manageable levels to ensure habitat isn’t negatively impacted, which can have an effect on moose productivity and other species that utilize the same eco-system.
What problems have been reported this winter with moose entering our urban area?
• Encounters with off leash pets.
• Moose using walkways, paths and roads to get from one place to another, increasing the possibility of encounters with the public.
• The novelty and opportunity to see moose creates problems with folks taking selfies and getting too close to an animal which, despite its docile appearance, can behave in unpredictable ways.
• The moose congregating in areas where there is a lot of recreation, such as the ski area, which can create issues for both skiers and moose.
Are there lessons to learn? How can people stay safe?
Keep your distance. Enjoy these wonderful animals from a safe distance and safe place.
Keep something large between you and a moose — a car, a fence, something that can create a physical barrier.
The number-one consideration and rule for living in moose country is to keep your dogs on a leash. The only natural predator to moose are wolves, and dogs tend to agitate and create dangerous situations for moose and people because of the moose’s instinct to respond to the K-9 species.
If someone is having an issue with a moose, such as an animal hanging around a house or preventing access to a home, contact us by getting in touch with Routt County dispatch at 970-879-1090. If you have an emergency situation, dial 911. Our wildlife officers are very knowledgeable and can provide tips about how to make your home and property a less desirable place for moose to hang out.
How is the local moose population generally managed? I’m wondering how many relocations we’ve had to do in recent years, and how wildlife officers respond to reports of moose in urban areas.
This year, we relocated one cow and two calves that were behind the T-Bar near the base area. Wildlife officers use their discretion and CDP policy to determine how to respond to moose calls. Many calls are sightings in which a moose is moving through yards, down paths or roadways. In some instances, a moose may create a situation where someone doesn’t feel comfortable getting out of the house. In these cases, wildlife officers can provide advice or respond to the location and move the moose along. In cases where there is a public safety issue, wildlife officers will provide education on site, place sign boards warning the public of moose in the area and monitor the activity of the moose. Again officers have the discretion on how to manage moose in the area. If the need arises to relocate a moose, we have the tools in place to do so.
What’s in store for the future of the moose population? It seems to be growing, along with our visitor base. Is there some maximum number that triggers a management action?
The increase in Colorado’s human population and more visitors coming to our area to recreate can create problems with wildlife. Four-season recreation — hiking, biking, skiing, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, etc. — can lead to increased opportunities to see a moose and potentially create conflicts. This requires visitors and locals to be diligent, responsible and educated about how to avoid conflicts with moose. The same rules apply for bears and other wildlife.
This needs to be a multifaceted approach with involvement from the community, other land management agencies and the ski area. One thing we are starting to work on is a moose management plan with the ski resort. Given the current issues and the possibility of an expansion of the ski resort in the future, we may continue to see moose utilize these areas. The approach needs to be collaborative, and we need to effectively use every tool in the box to minimize human-moose conflicts. This includes education at the resort, local shops and restaurants and lodges; signage on and around the mountain; using deterrents, such as hazing and the use of blood meal (dried animal blood) along trails; trail closures; and research to better understand the temporal and spatial patterns of moose — how they use the landscape on an annual basis and how they utilize urban habitats: all this can help us implement management strategies to help with harvest and to ID key locations where education and signage is further warranted. Also, we want to be able to harvest moose in locations where it is safe and accessible but also where we have higher than normal densities.
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