The Moose are (Still) Loose
Living with wildlife
My grandson Tristan had just headed out the front door to go play in the new snowfall when suddenly, he burst back into the house. “I’m not playing outside,” he said flatly. “There’s a big moose out there.” Sure enough, when my daughter stepped out her front door right in the heart of Sandpoint, a large cow moose was munching contentedly on her landscaping.
It happens every year, and it’s not just moose in Sandpoint. In late November, I surprised a cow elk at the end of my in-town, Clark Fork driveway, and deer are as much a nuisance to many local residents as are raccoons, skunks or squirrels. I haven’t heard of a lot of bears in the middle of town, but they certainly appear on the outskirts, and there are those who have spotted cougar tracks quite close to residential areas (though I haven’t heard of an actual cougar-spotting yet.) We live in an area of abundant wildlife, and as more and more homes are built in areas where formerly only the wildlife lived, the boundaries between residential and wildland are blurring enough that even the wildlife no longer recognize them.
It should be noted that while many of those who live here are excited at this proximity to wildlife, there are those who are much less enthralled. A friend of my mother’s, now in her 90s, slow-moving and not quite steady on her pins, confided in me that she dreads the times the moose appear in her Boyer Avenue, Sandpoint yard, as she’s no longer agile enough to respond should she need to.
And she might need to, because the operative part of the word wildlife is wild No matter how common it might be to see wild animals in town, they really aren’t your family pet.
Unfortunately, there are a number of residents who become over-excited at wildlife in their or their neighbors’ yards. Facebook fills with pictures of the critters, and sometimes local moose travel through town with a paparazzi entourage that might lead one to think George Clooney is visiting.
Can we say how stupid this is? Of course, we say it every year and it doesn’t seem to make a dent in the wildlife stalkers out there, but chasing a moose through the city streets is really not a good idea. One day, someone is going to panic a moose that’s then going to trample some little kid out playing in his yard, and then the lawsuits will be filed while some poor family tries to pick up what might be tragic pieces of a young child’s close-up encounter with wildlife.
In the interest of prevention, therefore, let us reiterate a few pointers about how to live with wildlife without becoming a total idiot.
First, leave them alone. If you must have a photo (and I have taken more than a few of them myself), use the zoom feature on your camera and don’t get close enough that the animal notices you are there. If the animal moves away, it’s likely you have disturbed it. Don’t compound the error by chasing it (either on foot or in a car) and potentially getting the animal really riled up.
Second, don’t feed them. It’s quite likely that you have no idea of what constitutes a suitable diet for wildlife and will do more harm than good. In fact, even if you feed the right food, you’re not going to do any good. You’re helping to habituate wild animals to being around human habitation, which often leads to their death anyway.
As our own Fish & Game officer Matt Haag put it to me, “as cruel as it sounds life is a bitch and the natural cycle of things is really important. While it may feel good to ‘rescue’ a animal it really has no impact on the total health of a population unless it’s an endangered species.”
Death—including death from starvation in a harsh winter—is part of the reality for wild animals. If it helps, sing that Elton John song from “The Lion King” about the circle of life.
Third—keep your dogs inside or otherwise prevent them from chasing the animal. Not only will this help prevent an accident due to a panicked moose, it might also save your dog’s life. Because no matter how big and bad your dog might be, they’re not likely to be a match for an animal that can weigh as much as a full size pickup truck.
Fourth—If you see an injured animal or what you think is an abandoned youngster, report it to the proper authorities. Call either the Fish and Game office, or the local sheriff for your area. (Do the same if you witness any wildlife in a residential area that’s behaving aggressively.) Whatever you do, do not attempt to take care of the situation yourself. Matt said, “Yes, and remind folks that they are not allowed to pick up wildlife animals. Possession is a misdemeanor if they harbor wildlife.”
In the Sagle area, Dorie McIssac is licensed as a rehabber for injured/abandoned wildlife (http://mystic-farm.com), and cares primarily for the ungulates (deer, elk and moose).
In the Clark Fork area, Kathleen with American Heritage Wildlife Foundation (www.ahwf.org) can rehab small animals and birds.
A great benefit to living in this area is its resident wildlife—do your part to keep them wild.