There are Moose on the Loose
By Dan Greeson
Colorado’s Shiras moose are the largest big game animals in the state. Adults can weigh between 800 and 1,200 pounds. Photo by David Dietrich
By Allison Plean and Suzi Mitchell
Cars are stopped on U.S. 40, a crowd is gathered at Casey’s Pond and everyone is looking at one thing: a bull moose taking a late afternoon dip, and he is a sight to see.
Moose sightings in Steamboat Springs have grown over the last few years to the point that they have become a daily occurrence. Approximately 70 moose currently live in Game Management Unit 14, which is bounded by U.S. 40/Rabbit Ears Pass on the south, U.S. 40 and Elk River Road on the west, the Continental Divide on the east and from Steamboat Lake to the Continental Divide on the north.
As one of the wettest places in Colorado, Steamboat’s weather pattern and foliage of willows, aspens, berries and alpine shrubs make it attractive to moose. “The moose in and around Steamboat showed up essentially on their own from the transplants that occurred in the mid-1970s in North Park,” says Brad Petch, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s senior terrestrial biologist for the Northwest Region. “They are solitary, noted travelers and cover a lot of country. For whatever reason, they get a desire to wander and set up shop there.”
The statuesque mammals frequent spots around Old Town Steamboat, Mount Werner, and the base area at the Steamboat Ski Area. In February 2015, a moose attacked local resident Pam Vanatta in the Sanctuary neighborhood. She blames herself because her two collies had spooked the wildlife.
“It was one of those situations where I looked at one moose and didn’t see the other one off my blind side. When he went charging, I was in the way,” Vanatta says. She sustained a concussion and needed 14 staples in her head. “I am much more aware of my surroundings now,” she says. “It’s good for people to be mindful that we live in an area that has wildlife and to be respectful of it.”
In February 2017, wildlife officers relocated a cow and two calves from the condo area in Ski Time Square to the Elkhead Mountains, northwest of Craig. Their frequent visits to Steamboat Ski Area trails resulted in this calculated move. Reducing the possibility of conflicts between humans and moose is the best way to ensure the safety of all parties involved.
“You don’t just pick up and move a wild animal like a moose,” says Mike Porras, public information officer for Colorado Protection of Wildlife’s Northwest Region. “It’s a very difficult operation. There’s a lot of risk involved.” CPW’s wildlife managers look for suitable habitat as the primary consideration in relocation assignments.
The mammals have no natural predator in Routt County, and hunting tags for moose are limited. “It’s safe to say that we will continue to see additional moose in the Steamboat area,” Petch says. “There’s active colonization going on.”
“Colorado Parks and Wildlife is working hard to maintain healthy wildlife populations in the face of increasingly dwindling and fragmented habitat,” Porras says. “And in the face of a fast-growing human population.”