Moose help put Park City on map
July 28, 2007
States identify with their state bird. Park City prides itself on its moose. Colorful, full-sized moose sculptures adorn the town and moose memorabilia and photographs fill Main Street shops. A moose shuffling through town draws the same attention as a Sundance celebrity.
About 200 moose have recently been counted living in the area from Summit County to Mt. Timpanogos, with most of them in Summit County, said Kent Hersey, the big-game project leader for the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources.
Gangly, dopy, lovable-looking and furry, the moose seems cuddly as cuddly as 1,500 pounds of muscle and bone can be. But moose can be moody behemoths, seldom having the patience to pose for snapshots next to humans. In fact, they have a rap sheet detailing injury and death to humans that is longer than that of bears.
"They’re deceptive," said Scott Root, conservation wildlife manager of DWR. "It happens quite frequently. People will pull off to the side of the road to look and take pictures. The moose seems so docile But never judge a moose by its cover."
"They’re fast," he said. "I have video footage of a friend (a DWR biologist) getting chased around a bush by a moose like they’re playing Ring Around the Rosie."
Moose may come into peoples’ backyards because they have been forced out of their habitat by humans and have nowhere else to go, according to Hersey. Or, they are just thirsty.
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Root said, "Half-a-dozen times (a year) they’ll come into town, looking for water. And sometimes a young bull will get kicked out of the herd by a larger moose."
"We try to shoo it away," Root said, adding, "From a distance."
He said many of the unfortunate moose/human encounters come from mutual misunderstanding.
"People will gradually try to get close to a moose. But the personal space of a moose is a little larger than ours," Root said. "All of a sudden the moose may bluff charge. Or it might charge. When you have 1,000 pounds stomping on you, you’ll feel it."
Moose are herbivores and, unlike bears, have no interest in approaching humans or campsites for food. Moose habitat is generally wet areas, often high mountain meadows with aspen, Hersey said. In the winter, they tend to congregate on windswept peaks where they can feed on exposed plants.
The bull moose grow new antlers every year, using them to fight other males, to win over a cow. The bulls will shed their antlers every winter.
Hersey said, "They’re generally not aggressive. They are usually pretty tame if people keep their distance. But people want a nice picture, and if you try to get within 10 feet of a moose to snap its picture, it might not like that."
One time bulls do tend to be aggressive is during rutting season in the fall. Females are highly protective of their calfs.
Root said, "I like to see them as a gentle giant, but people are surprised that moose cause more death than bear. They can be very, very dangerous."
But moose are perhaps more dangerous in an unintentional way when cars collide with them on the highway.
"Think about it. You have a black moose against a black horizon. They have long legs, and their giant body is at the height of the windshield as you speed down the interstate toward them," Root said.
Tips by Scott Root to avoid confrontation with a moose:
Do not approach a moose. Make a wide path around it if you have to pass it.
Never get between a cow moose and its calf.
Do not make eye contact with a moose. It may be seen as a challenge.
Slowly back away.
Get some object like a tree between you and a moose if a moose is charging.
Moose, like dogs, are stressed if their ears are laid back and the fur on their back is raised.
A dog may approach a moose and bark, drawing a charge toward the dog and master.
Moose are good swimmers, so water is not a safe haven for a human seeking refuge.
If a moose is not where it should be, generally it will move on. But if people have concerns, they may contact DWR at (801) 491-5678