Sightings growing more common in Summit County; biologists still debating whether they are native to the state
Story by Bob Berwyn
Video by Jenney Coberly
SUMMIT COUNTY — More frequent moose sightings in places like Silverthorne and Breckenridge are a clear sign that Colorado’s moose population is growing and expanding its range in the Summit County area, said Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton.
Just in the past few months, state biologists transplanted 20 moose by helicopter from Jackson County to the Flat Tops area, east of Meeker, joining another 24 moose that were brought in from Utah previously.
Most of the moose in the Summit County area likely are part of a growing herd that was introduced in North Park in 1978. Since then, the herd has spread down into Middle Park, around Kremmling, and then down through the Gore Range, which is full of ideal willow-wetland and lodgepole habitat. Residents of the Willowbrook area often report seeing moose, as well people living on the flanks of the Tenmile Range in the Upper Blue.
There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer as to whether moose are native to Colorado or not. Some wildlife biologists suggest they never lived here until they were brought in by the division of wildlife. Other historic records suggest they were common in the state, but that that were hunted to near-oblivion by both Native Americans and an expanding population of settlers. Moose make an easy target compared to deer, elk and antelope. Males can weigh as much as 1,500 pounds, and their antlers can span six feet across.
Hampton addressed the question in a comment thread at the Craig Daily Press:
“There is considerable debate about whether moose are native to Colorado or not. Some scholars have suggested that moose were probably quite common in higher-elevation willow habitats (like the Flattops) when there were few people in these areas. They believe that moose were likely hunted out by early tribes and settlers because moose are large animals that don’t run from people (like deer and elk) and provide a lot of meat. So those individuals state that moose were likely here in larger numbers but eventually only survived in inhospitable places like Canada and northern Minnesota where the mosquitoes are as big as the moose (and people don’t spend much time).
Our knowledge of moose is limited by historical record and unfortunately early tribes didn’t keep extensive wildlife records other than some cave drawings (which do depict moose-like critters). We do have a photo from the Denver Historic Society of the 1896 “Festival of Mountain and Plain” in Denver which clearly shows a moose on a parade float with an elk, a fox, a coyote, etc. Diaries from early land managers like the first Superintendant of the Battlement Reserve (now Grand Mesa National Forest) also make mention of “a very few moose” around 1900.”
In addition to the North Park herd, the state has also established populations around Creede and Lake City. The division doesn’t use tax funds for the relocations. The funding comes from money raised by hunting licenses and other special programs. Moose are among the most popular “watchable wildlife” species, ranking up there with bighorn sheep, Hampton said. Watchable wildlife is considered an economic benefit to the state, and limited moose-hunting also helps keep the cash-registers ringing in some of the state’s most rural areas, where hunting is a big part of the economy.
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