Jeff Madison, right, releases a moose Friday near Meeker while, from left, Hadley Franklin, 4, Jayden Mack, 5, and Eliana Mack, 6, watch. Madison, who retired from the Colorado Division of Wildlife two years ago and now works for Rio Blanco County, was instrumental in starting the Meeker-area program, which transports moose from Utah into Northwest Colorado.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Jeff Madison, right, releases a moose Friday near Meeker while, from left, Hadley Franklin, 4, Jayden Mack, 5, and Eliana Mack, 6, watch. Madison, who retired from the Colorado Division of Wildlife two years ago and now works for Rio Blanco County, was instrumental in starting the Meeker-area program, which transports moose from Utah into Northwest Colorado.

DOW officers introduce moose to Northwest Colorado

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A moose, one of 19 that have been released this year into the area, makes its way to a new home at the south fork of the White River near Meeker.

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A moose makes its way out of the trailer where Division of Wildlife officials and family members watch Friday in Rio Blanco County. DOW officers said that interest stays high in these types of animal releases.

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Jeff Madison watches a moose as its leaves a trailer Friday at the south fork of the White River. The Division of Wildlife studied the local habitat to ensure that it could support new animals.

Jeff Madison stands among family, friends and colleagues and watches moose after moose run from the confines of cramped trailers into the open wilderness that surrounds the south fork of the White River.

Children squeal. Adults awe and snap photos.

The landscape east of Meeker is serene but for the moose's gallops.

As they distance themselves from their temporary holders - Colorado Division of Wildlife officers who spent the last three days transporting the animals from Utah to Colorado - the moose run to the bottom of an empty pasture, rendered blank by the white snow that covers the ground.

The setting is not lost on anyone, even Madison, who has seen it all before.

He retired from the DOW two years ago after three decades of service. Friday's moose release was part of a program he helped engineer as senior terrestrial biologist for Colorado's northwest region.

Nothing could ruin the moment, Madison said. Not even the moose themselves.

"They're amazing animals," he said as his eyes dart across the landscape. "We kid around they're so ugly that they're actually kind of charming. It warms your heart to get them back into spots like this."

Introduction, not reintroduction

The Flat Tops Wilderness Moose Introduction is not designed to bring Colorado back to its frontier days.

DOW Terrestrial Biologist Darby Finley said moose probably never were native to Colorado. However, the animals could be invaluable to the state's mission to increase its attractiveness to tourists.

In areas such as Walden, Kremmling and Grand Mesa National Forest, transplanted moose populations have brought wildlife watchers and hunters to local economies, Finley said.

The Flat Tops area - including land 20 miles east of Meeker, the site of Friday's drop - is the last hole in a new, contiguous moose habitat between the Poudre River west of Fort Collins and Grand Mesa.

He added that officials are not too worried about moose threatening the habitats of native animals. Moose diets have some overlap with other big game, such as elk, but not enough to compete directly.

Moose also don't breed in large numbers, which makes them more naturally containable, Finley said.

The DOW plans for about 150 to 200 moose at a maximum for the Meeker area. To get there, the agency transported 19 moose this year and hopes for another 20 in early 2010.

Combined, those two years will cost about $105,000, Finley said, which pays for transports, medical tests and tracking collars.

The DOW sought input from local landowners before proceeding with the project, Finley said.

"They were very excited about the project," he said. "It was received really well. If it wasn't, we may not have done it. We would have definitely had to do some more (public relations) work to justify why we should be putting moose here. That was always important to us (to get other groups on board), and it's been great working with the U.S. Forest Service and agencies in Utah."

More exciting than a desk job

DOW Wildlife Officer Mike Swaro, an officer in his 20s, has said he might never move away from Colorado, though his family hails from Ohio.

All the same, traveling to the Ogden, Utah area to wrangle moose for the transport is one of the highlights of his young career.

Much like the more seasoned Madison, Swaro said these moments are memorable.

"These are the days you wait for every year," Swaro said. "That's one of the cool things about this job. Everyday is different, and stuff like this is why I got into this job."

The mission was complex, but Swaro, Madison, Finley and the other officials were more excited than nervous.

Helicopter crews went out and shot moose with net guns, allowing so-called "muggers" to jump out of the hovering aircraft and tie up and blindfold the captured animals.

The pilots then flew the moose back to a base camp, where ground officers took them to a waiting trailer and released their ties.

"Then it was game-on and you have to get out of that trailer as fast as you could," Swaro said.

"It was cool," he added with a satisfied shrug. "I had a great time."

For next time, though, he said it would be nice to be in the helicopter.

Comments

Neal Harkner 5 years, 3 months ago

A few issues I have with this:

1) The DOW apparently has forgotten there already are moose in Colorado. There's a herd in North Park that occasionally has stragglers who wander into the Yampa Valley.

2) When (not if) the moose wander down the White River Valley into Meeker, will the DOW compensate landowners for the property damage the moose will cause? Remember the early 90s when a bull & a cow moose wandered into Craig, ate landscaping and knocked down several fences - including the 10 foot tall one at the bus garage? Craig residents were assured the moose would get bored and leave the area, but they didn't and the DOW had to tranquilize and relocate them.

3) The moose were never here to begin with. If they were being re-introduced or brought into the area to help the survival of the species I wouldn't have a problem with it, but from what I can tell they're solely for "tourism" purposes. Nice. Waste taxpayer dollars so you can put a picture of a moose on a postcard.

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Randy Hampton 5 years, 3 months ago

Harkner,

  1. No, we haven't 'forgotten'. There are three major moose populations in Colorado: North Park (est. 1978)(population appx. 1,000-1,200), Creede (est. 1991)(pop. appx. 400) and Grand Mesa (est. 2005)(pop. appx. 120-150). There are also numerous straggler populations including moose that wonder onto the Flattops and moose that are frequently seen in the Cold Springs Mountain area of Moffat County (wandering in from WY).

  2. If moose wander into populated areas and cause problems, the DOW will deal with them. Moose that behave aggressively towards people will be put down.

  3. Moose provide additional hunting opportunity (benefitting the economy) and provide tourism opportunity (benefitting the economy during times outside of hunting seasons). And, the DOW doesn't receive tax funding for these projects. Moose projects like the one on the Flattops are funded using sportsmen's dollars plus money from moose funds, which come from the annual raffle of moose licenses by Safari Club International.

Thanks for your questions. I hope this helps clarify the project.

Randy Hampton Spokesman, DOW NW Region

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Really 5 years, 3 months ago

I think it is great! I have seen moose in Brown's Park and on Black Mountain and would love to see more!

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Neal Harkner 5 years, 3 months ago

Randy, thanks for taking the time to respond. Sorry to come off a little half-cocked.

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grannyrett 5 years, 3 months ago

Randy--I still don't understand. DOW takes a non-native animal and brings it into the area, and yet, they shock the river in order to remove a non-native fish. Any one remember the northern pike?

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Randy Hampton 5 years, 3 months ago

Grannyrett,

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.

The removal of non-native fish is a different topic, but is done so that endangered fish species (found in the Colorado River Basin and nowhere else on earth) can recover while we continue to develop water resources for agricultural use and human population growth. The debate around endangered fish recovery could continue for a long time, but I don't want to get too far off the moose topic on this page. I'm always happy to have that discussion, but should probably do that one outside of the moose story.

Thanks for the additional comments. I hope my responses are helpful.

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Patrick Germond 5 years, 3 months ago

First off, I like the fact that DOW brought in Moose. However, they are incompetent and will probably only let them starve while there busy writing tickets or counting sage grouse. If I was a judge I would ban them from owning pets. They're a bunch of Al Gore weirdos that can't manage their front lawns let alone our wildlife. When people in any job fail as bad as they have they need to be fired. Period It's better for them and us.

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Patrick Germond 5 years, 3 months ago

Maybe I was a little to hard on DOW. They do need to here it though. LOL

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