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When the moose are loose... IDFG's policy

Winter can bring many unique challenges to people and wildlife.  The break in the snow has been nice but by the time this issue of the River Journal hits the press we may be looking at more cold and snow. Hey, its winter right? That’s what’s supposed to happen around these parts. The snowpack is an essential part of our lives. It replenishes our wells, rivers and lakes and reduces the potential for catastrophic wildland fires. I checked the National Resources Conservation Service website on snowpack levels and we’re sitting around 80 percent for annual accumulation depending where you are in the county. Please note that SNOTEL reporting evaluates the total moisture content of the snow, not necessarily the depth of the snow.

Wildlife does an amazing job adapting to the challenging conditions of winter. Centuries of evolution in our game herds have developed animals that are physiologically designed to survive freezing temperatures and deep snow.  Naturally, some of these critters head for areas with less snow, such as southwest facing slopes. Unfortunately, they also head out on the ice and travel the same roads and railroad tracks that we do.

Your Fish and Game department has been actively monitoring our herd’s health by watching the animals’ behavior and physical condition. Our ungulates are finding the food they need and are doing well.  Regrettably, they are not faring so well on the roads and railroad tracks. This is a challenge we need to take on as a Department and as a community. When the snow gets deep and the critters head for the roads, what are some ways we can reduce vehicle/wildlife collisions? We can slow down and pay attention to areas where wildlife consistently cross the road.  If you take note, the animals are hit in the same stretches of highway throughout the winter. Slow down in those areas and scan the side of the road for critters.  There’s no avoiding the suicidal critter that runs straight into the side of your rig from nowhere.

Our hoofed wildlife tend to migrate to lower elevations in the winter as well, putting those animals in our backyards. With the expansion of homes further and further up our mountainsides we lose wintering areas and habitat for these animals.  Subsequently, animals, especially moose, move even lower getting into heavily populated areas. Moose would prefer not to be in town but sometimes are they pushed there by various circumstances. The proximity of people, dogs, and vehicles place a lot of stress on the moose. They become exhausted and take up a resting spot in our backyards, especially if you have some inviting ornamental landscaping!

How can we as community help out these moose when they wander into our towns? And what can the Department do to help? Please give them some room and respect their size and temperament. Also, dogs tend to bring out the Tasmanian Devil in moose. Instinct dictates that the moose react to a domestic dog as they would a wolf or coyote. They charge and stomp the dog to protect themselves, causing severe if not lethal damage. For the wellbeing of the moose and Fido, please keep them on a leash and keep them away from the moose until they move on.

Additionally, please, please, do not feed the animals. They are physiological adapted to eat available browse in the winter such as twigs and bark. If we upset that process by offering high nutrient feed like grain and hay, we could have a devastating effect on the that animal. Also, survival of the fittest is a necessary process in the animal world. The individuals that are able to produce ample fat reserves to make it through the winter pass that knowledge and genetics on to their offspring, a minute but important process in natural selection. Winter feeding makes the people feel good, but hardly ever changes the fate of the animals. So ask yourself, “Am I feeding because it helps the animals, or am I feeding to make myself feel better?”

So what does IDFG do about moose that are hanging out in town? There is no black and white response to that situation, except that we do not automatically remove that animal. Our first priority is the safety of people—especially children—and then the health of the moose.  If the moose has injuries and is showing some aggressive behavior due to being harassed, we may decide to remove the moose. Please don’t hesitate to call us if you think a moose is posing a threat to people.

Logistically, drugging and transporting a moose is a huge endeavor. A 700 pound animal on drugs has unpredictable behavior that can result in people or the animal getting hurt. Some moose never recover from the drugs and are euthanized, due to complications. Then comes the question of where do we bring the moose if it survives? All the roads into the hills are snowed in, so inevitably the moose is released in an area where it finds someone else’s backyard. Moving animals, whether a bear or a moose, is never a solution to the problem, it’s only a temporary fix.

As moose find their way into the places we have chosen for neighborhoods, final options such as drugging, removing, or euthanizing the animals are avoided if a less invasive solution can be reached. Leaving the moose alone to find its way out of the neighbor is the best option, however it takes the most patience.

Thanks to the folks who have shared their backyards with a tired moose this winter. Just giving them a place to rest for a few days can make the difference.

Speaking of giving the animals a rest, I’m alarmed at the number of people antler hunting right where elk are wintering. Please wait until green-up in the spring to shed hunt, or find a spot where you are not disturbing the elk. The critters thank you!

Leave No Child Inside

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Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

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