March 12, 2009 in Outdoors

Moose on loose can be dangerous

By The Spokesman-Review
 

It was a cheerless moment we eventually must expect here in the Near Nature, Near Perfect Spokane River valley.

A moose was accidentally killed Tuesday afternoon as state wildlife officials tried to haze a cow and calf away from a children’s day care in Liberty Lake.

Nobody was pleased with the outcome, especially the officer who fired the “cracker shell” that hit the small, weak calf moose oddly and killed it.

“They’ve done this before to scare moose away from an area and it’s worked, but this time it didn’t,” said Madonna Luers, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department spokeswoman.

“It’s sad, but the moose were here for two days and starting to come up within 8 feet of the door,” said Fawn Dunn of Meadow Wood Children’s Center. Hers was one of eight phone calls of concern received by Liberty Lake police Tuesday morning.

“One father wouldn’t leave his child here until the moose were gone. He pointed out that moose injure more people each year than bears,” she said.

Nevertheless, some people were incensed. One witness likened it to “a bad Keystone Cops episode.”

Many people have said the officers should have tranquilized the moose and hauled them into the hills, while police officers said they were confident the moose would simply leaving into the big open field to the east.

Maybe it’s time to think more broadly about how we’re going to coexist with these relatively new beasts of beauty and burden.

Everybody in the Spokane or Coeur d’Alene area seems to have a moose story this winter.

The largest members of the deer family have been dealing with record snowfall and cold by hanging out in our yards and generally delighting all of us who love to watch wildlife – even while they’re pruning our shrubbery.

This harsh winter has coincided with a burgeoning moose population.

Few moose inhabited the area 30 years ago. Washington opened its first moose hunting season in 1977 by offering just three tags, all for the northeastern corner of the state.

This year the number of moose permits will be 220, plus 10 new permits that will be distributed to certified master hunters for dealing with some nuisance issues.

Despite being goofy looking and loveable, moose are wild critters that occasionally make the point:

•A calf moose calf fell through a basement window in North Spokane this winter.

•A cow moose recently stomped on a woman who was trying to keep it away from her dog in her yard near Ford. The woman was treated at a hospital and released.

“That was the one case where we felt we had to take serious steps and kill the moose,” Luers said.

While these extreme cases make the headlines, there have been many, many more that have been nearly unnoticed.

“We take a wait-and-see approach to most calls about moose because they’ll usually move on,” Luers said. “But we’ve had officers respond to about 200 moose cases in the calendar year ending in February. That’s off the charts for us.

“Out of those 200, we’ve taken action in about 100 cases, using hazing techniques such as paintballs, rubber bullets or cracker shells or sometimes tranquilizing and relocating the animals.

“In the past two months, we’ve tranquilized and relocated 21 moose. That’s almost one moose every other day, and it takes at least four men to deal with one.”

A tranquilizer gun isn’t a magic wand. “Powerful drugs are needed to sedate a moose, and some animals don’t make it through the ordeal,” Luers said.

“We peg the cost of tranquilizing a moose, getting the staff and truck and all the time spent for relocation at about $3,000 a case.”

Indeed, even if the agency wasn’t cash-strapped and looking at deep staff cuts in the state budget crisis, that’s a huge hit to a regional staff that has only four wildlife enforcement officers to deal with poachers and a myriad of other issues in Spokane County.

We need to send a delegation to Anchorage and scope out how Alaska high school students have developed moose awareness programs for city residents.

Meantime, local citizens can help the situation by treating moose like the wild creatures they are. First, don’t expect wildlife officials to succeed flawlessly 100 percent of the time in dealing with a 900-pound creature that alternates in an instant between lovable and deadly.

Don’t feed them, of course. Don’t approach them closely, which can lead to immediate problems or simply inch them along in losing their natural wariness of humans. The result is bad either way.

And in the likelihood that a moose is on your front porch when you get home tonight, use the back door.

Contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508, or e-mail to richl@spokesman.com.


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