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Moose in the garden? It happens

A bull and cow moose hang out in a North Spokane neighborhood on Oct. 21, 2013, before Washington Fish and Wildlife officers tranquilized them and moved them out of the Indian Trail neighborhood for public safety.  (Bryan Olesen)
A bull and cow moose hang out in a North Spokane neighborhood on Oct. 21, 2013, before Washington Fish and Wildlife officers tranquilized them and moved them out of the Indian Trail neighborhood for public safety. (Bryan Olesen)

WILDLIFE WATCHING -- A few years ago, I'd get several photos a week from readers sharing the sight of moose in their yards or on their walks or adventures.

Nowadays I get very few. The reason: moose sightings are almost common.

Phil Cooper of Idaho Fish and Game's Panhandle Region has a column this week with all sorts of details about moose and why the department sometimes will respond and remove a moose that's wandered into town -- and why the staff sometimes just leaves them be.

Summary:  Don't be fooled by their calm demeanor -- keep your distance!  And never provide food for moose.

Read on for the details from Cooper.


Most people enjoy the moose that come to visit towns and feel that they are a part of what makes northern Idaho a special place to live.   However, the enjoyment of living with wildlife, especially moose, occasionally comes with some degree of consternation.  

Moose typically eat woody material including trees, needles and shrubs in the winter.  In spring, they transition to new vegetative growth. Sometimes, this tasty new growth can include your heirloom tulips.   All of your hard work can vanish in a few chomps. You are likely to get angry and think Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) should take the moose away…and the sooner the better. Well, moving moose, like many other tasks involving wild animals, is not as easy as it looks.

Why are moose occasionally in town?   Well, moose do not know or care where city limits begin and end.  Moose migrate to lower elevations in the winter.  They move down from the mountains to escape predators and deep snow. With most incorporated areas being at low elevations, they end up in towns, yards, gardens and fruit trees. 

Most of the lower elevations in northern Idaho contain high quality native moose habitat, accessible even in winter. However, when moose wander into lower elevations, there is no more desirable food source than ornamental plants, fruit trees, garden plants, and flowers that people plant around their homes.   Our landscaping invites moose to dine amongst us.

Having the IDFG remove a moose from town seems like a simple solution until the many complications of the operation are considered.  There are multiple risks associated with tranquilizing moose in town.  First off, the animal’s weight must be accurately estimated to determine the proper dosage of tranquilizing drugs.  Next, but even more significant, the narcotics used to knock down a moose are potentially fatal to humans.  In the event that a dart containing the full narcotic dosage for a moose misses the moose and lands in a snow bank or shrubs, it would pose an immediate and deadly threat to people.   If a person were to find the dart and accidentally deliver the narcotic just to their skin surface, it would most likely be fatal.

If the dart is successfully delivered to the moose, the moose may pose a more serious threat to the public than if it were left alone.  Depending upon the physical and mental condition of the moose, the drugs take five to 15 minutes to take full effect.   In that time, there is significant risk to property and human safety if the moose moves through town or across highways or streets under the influence of narcotics.  

There are substantial personnel demands associated with locating the moose, delivering the proper dosage, and loading a tranquilized moose.  The moose that was in your yard four straight days may be six houses or six blocks away the fifth day.  Once tranquilized; vitals must be monitored, the animal is rolled onto a tarp, it is loaded into a trailer and hauled away.  An antidote is administered, and the moose is released where it will (hopefully) not cause more problems.   A minimum of eight people with strong backs are needed to move one 800 pound moose.  

IDFG funding, which comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and tags (and an excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment), is extremely limited.  It is imperative when IDFG assembles a crew from around the region for a moose relocation, the effort has a high probability of success.

In one attempted moose relocation I was involved in near Pocatello back in the 1980’s (yes, I have been around a long time!), a moose turned just slightly when the dart was shot.  Rather than hitting the rump, the dart pierced the hide just ahead of the rump and injected the drugs straight into the liver.  It immediately dropped dead on the spot. It was not a good scene with lots of local onlookers...but it can happen.

Intentional feeding of wildlife, especially moose, has been a growing problem within city limits.  IDFG and the local law enforcement agencies receive regular reports and observations of residents feeding bread, apples, carrots, and similar human foods to moose.   Not only are residents that feed moose habituating them to living in town, they are potentially killing the moose.   In the winter and early spring moose are adapted to and require woody browse material in their diet.   Eating rich foods during this season can upset their digestive systems and possibly result in death.

Ideally, a moose will leave town because it decides to.  However, a moose in town does not inherently pose a safety risk. If left alone, they almost always leave in a relatively short period of time. If a moose does not leave town on its own and it becomes aggressive and/or charges people, IDFG can look for the right opportunity to relocate it safely and effectively. 

In the meantime, when moose (or any other wild animals) show up in proximity to people, please give the animals a wide berth and do not provoke them.  Always avoid getting between a mother and her offspring. Otherwise, you may quickly learn they don’t like having you there any more than you want them there.

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Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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