With a healthy moose population in Southwest Colorado, interactions between moose and people are inevitable.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials are warning residents to give the animals space and remain cautious around the massive mammals.
“It’s not uncommon for young bulls, especially, to go out for a wander,” said CPW assistant area wildlife manager Steve McClung. “They’re old enough to leave their mom and the area they were born in and just start seeking out their own territory.”
In September, CPW relocated a young bull moose from downtown Durango to the San Juan National Forest.
Sightings in San Juan County and across Southwest Colorado have been more frequent this year with more moose wandering into town and spending longer periods of time there, according to a CPW news release.
Two 6-month-old moose calves have been seen frequently around Silverton this fall after they were orphaned earlier this summer.
Their mother was struck by a car nearby and the young bull and cow have stayed around town, roaming on sidewalks, roads and into people’s yards.
“It is likely these two calves will be around town through the winter,” said area wildlife manager Adrian Archuleta in a CPW news release. “We expect them to kind of stick around together and then, hopefully, move out further into the high country next spring when the snow starts to melt and there is more abundant food and territory elsewhere for them.”
Though residents have watched the two calves take up residence around Silverton because of extraordinary circumstances, moose have steadily expanded their presence in Southwest Colorado.
“They seem to be doing well and their numbers seem to be steadily increasing,” McClung said.
According to CPW’s 2020 population estimates, 460 moose live in Southwest Colorado out of 3,180 across the state. Their range extends north of Lake City, east of Creede, west to Silverton and south to the Weminuche Wilderness.
Though moose were “reintroduced” to Colorado, moose were historically transient and never established a breeding population in the state, according to CPW.
CPW first introduced 24 moose from Wyoming and Utah into North Park in Jackson County in 1978 to start a breeding population. The move was a success, and over the last three decades, CPW has continued to transplant them throughout the state.
In 1991, CPW brought in moose to Southwest Colorado for the first time. From 1991 to 1993, CPW moved 93 moose from Wyoming, Utah and North Park to the Upper Rio Grande River Valley and Mineral and Hinsdale counties.
As the population has more than quadrupled, moose have spread out throughout the region, with the occasional moose from southern Colorado making its way into New Mexico.
“They can wander pretty far afield from what one would think is suitable habitat, especially those young bulls,” McClung said.
The wandering habits of moose can be dangerous. So far this year, moose have attacked five people, according to CPW.
“Moose react to dogs the same way they would react to a predator in the wild,” CPW district wildlife manager Brandon Dye said in the news release. “While these moose in town, especially the two calves, may seem relatively tame or docile, it is important to remember that they are wild animals and can be unpredictable and extremely dangerous.”
Moose can be particularly aggressive defending their young. Laid back ears, raised hairs on the neck and licking of the snout are all signs of aggression, according to CPW’s website.
People should give moose as much room as possible, McClung and Dye said. If taking a picture, use zoom.
“Caution and common sense go a long way in preventing potential problems with moose,” CPW’s website says.
“Don’t get close. Keep your distance,” McClung said. “If you have a dog, it better be on a leash. If it goes and starts to chase after a moose, oftentimes moose will either kill or injure the dog or the dog will come back to its master and bring the upset moose with it.”
For the two moose calves in Silverton, it is especially important to limit human interaction to ensure they remain wild as possible.
Dye said the hope is that they naturally migrate from town without human intervention. He will continue to watch the calves with an eye toward public safety.