‘If things continue this way at Maroon Bells, it’s not if someone will be injured, but when’
FRISCO — Colorado’s growing moose population is causing a safety issue in the popular Maroon Bells area, near Aspen, according to state wildlife officials, who say people are getting to close to the animals along the Crater Lake Trail. Forest Service rangers temporarily closed the trail, but said that risky behavior continues, despite numerous posted signs warning of the potential danger.
“If things continue this way at Maroon Bells, it’s not if someone will be injured, but when,” said Perry Will, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We take this very seriously and together with the U.S. Forest Service, we will explore a variety of options to make it safer. This area is excellent habitat for moose Will said. “It is also a very popular tourist destination for people from all over the country and world. Closing it was not an easy decision but we cannot take the chance of someone being seriously injured by a moose.”
The U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will meet next week to explore options for making the area safer for visitors and for the moose. Will said relocating the moose from the area is not an option.
“The moose are there to stay so we advise people to enjoy them but to do so responsibly and from a safe distance,” said Will. “Just remember, if the moose changes its behavior in any way because of your presence, you’re too close and it’s time to back away.”
Until a permanent solution is found, CPW and the U.S. Forest Service will continue to educate people about the dangers of approaching moose and other wildlife; however, officials say that despite several recent media reports and the numerous signs posted in the area, many visitors to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area appear to be ignoring the advice.
Will points to a photo of a running moose on the front page of an Aspen newspaper on Tuesday. The photo, taken at Maroon Lake, was submitted by a couple from Boston who say they and their group were within 50 yards of the moose before the bull charged toward them.
“For some animals, that may be a sufficient distance, but not for moose,” said Will. “These people took a big risk by getting that close. They were lucky they were not injured.”
Moose can grow up to 1200 pounds and can run up to 35 miles per hour. They do not fear people and will aggressively defend their young and their territory. Their aggression increases in the presence of dogs. Moose respond to an approaching dog by trying to kill it because of their resemblance to wolves, a moose’s only natural predator. When the dog runs back to its owner, the moose often follows and attacks the owner as well.
Wildlife officials say that since late 2012, at least six people in Colorado have been injured by moose. Some of the more serious injuries resulted in extended hospitalization and a lengthy recuperation. In every one of these recent cases, dogs either off or on-leash precipitated the attack.
“We have a healthy moose population in Colorado, and we will continue to have them into the future,” said Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde. “It is incumbent upon people to be responsible around wildlife and not get too close, not only for their own safety but for the protection of the animals.”
Wildlife officials remind the public that an animal that has injured a human is often destroyed, regardless of the circumstances.
“Our primary concern is people’s safety,” added Will. “But no one wants to be responsible for the death of an animal that was only following its instincts.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife has extensive information about avoiding conflicts on its website. Visit www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlife.aspx to learn more.
Information about living with moose can be found at www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeMoose.aspx