Colorado: Snowmobilers harassing moose, posting videos

CDOW targets snowmobile rental companies with awareness campaign

Moose near Berthoud Pass, Colorado.
A moose cow and her calves graze in thick willows near Berthoud Pass.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Some snowmobilers in Colorado are chasing and harassing moose in the backcountry and then posting videos on social video web sites, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, which is launching an awareness campaign aimed at curbing the practice.

The message is targeting snowmobilers and snowmobile rental companies on the West Slope. Wildlife officers will be contacting snowmobile rental companies and providing them with literature that can be distributed to customers.

Although it is unclear where some of the videos were shot, at least one of them was taken in Grand County. The footage shows an unidentified person on a snowmobile chasing a moose at a high rate of speed. The moose then stops and appears to charge the rider before running away.  Although no one was reported to have been injured in this incident, officials are concerned that behavior like this could lead to injuries or death of moose and snowmobilers.

“Moose don’t behave like deer or elk,” says DOW Area Wildlife Manager Lyle Sidener.  “You can’t ‘shoo’ them off a trail.  Moose don’t see people as threats and they will stand their ground, or possibly attack.”

Moose sightings on snowmobile trails are common this time of year because it is easier for the animals to travel on packed snow. If a snowmobiler encounters a moose on a trail, DOW officials advise that the best thing to do is go around the animal and stay away as far as possible. Trying to force it off the trail could lead to an attack.

If a moose attacks, it can be a life-threatening situation. Although moose have shed their antlers by this time of year, their hooves are their primary defense and they will kick and stomp on any perceived threat. Although attacks are rare, several people in Colorado have been injured by moose including one fatality in 2005.

The best way to avoid a moose attack is to keep your distance. But in case of an encounter, Sidener has some suggestions for backcountry travelers.

“If you see a moose put its head down and pin its ears back, it’s a sign that an attack is likely. Put a tree, large rock or other big object between yourself and the moose, and get out of there as soon as you can,” Sidener advises.

If you are attacked, DOW officials recommend standing up if you are knocked down, and fighting back.  Another suggestion is keeping control of your pet at all times while in the backcountry.  Moose do not distinguish dogs from wolves, their primary predator in the wild. Moose will aggressively attack dogs.  Dogs often run to their owners for safety and that can bring an angry, thousand pound moose into conflict with people.

The growth and spread of moose populations, an increase in the number of people enjoying Colorado’s backcountry and advances in video technology are some of the factors that may have led to the increase in moose encounters and videotaped wildlife harassment, according to Regional Manager Ron Velarde.

“We will not tolerate harassment of wildlife and we hope that education will be enough to stop it,” Velarde said. People need to understand that harassing wildlife is dangerous, unethical and against the law. If I had seen some of these incidents in person, I would have been writing tickets to those involved.”

The Division of Wildlife encourages people to enjoy viewing Colorado’s wildlife in a safe, legal and responsible manner.

Sidener adds, “A snowmobile can be an excellent way to see Colorado’s backcountry, but people need to take some precautions when they encounter wildlife.”

Sidener reminds anyone who encounters wildlife to view it from a distance and, “Don’t feed, don’t approach and don’t harass.”

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