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Game officials take aim at dense moose populations

Spooked by traffic passing by, a moose trots through the front yard of a duplex on Lunceford Avenue in Coeur d’Alene in 2004, before disappearing into a wooded area beyond.  (FILE)
Spooked by traffic passing by, a moose trots through the front yard of a duplex on Lunceford Avenue in Coeur d’Alene in 2004, before disappearing into a wooded area beyond. (FILE)

A moose wandered into a backyard near the Fernan Lake boat launch, lured by a tempting array of ornamental plants.

Both the homeowner and Kootenai County sheriff’s deputies tried to scare it off. By the time Idaho Fish and Game’s Phil Cooper arrived, the agitated female moose was stomping around the yard.

She kept pausing by a low spot in the mesh fence but wouldn’t jump. Cooper started cutting down the fence. When the moose charged, he ducked. About 800 pounds of ungulate sailed over him.

Incidents like last summer’s close encounter are becoming more frequent in Kootenai County, where both moose and human populations are expanding their territories, said Cooper, a wildlife education coordinator. To help reduce conflicts, Fish and Game officials want to enlist the help of hunters.

They’ve proposed selling 23 more moose permits next fall for hunting units immediately east and west of Coeur d’Alene’s urban area and in other parts of the Panhandle where moose populations are growing.

The additional permits would be offset by fewer moose permits sold for the Priest Lake Basin and Purcell Mountains, which both contain wolf packs. Fish and Game officials propose 26 fewer moose permits in those units, because of anticipated wolf predation on moose calves.

Jim Hayden, the agency’s wildlife manager, described the proposed changes as a modest “tweaking” of permit sales that would redistribute hunters to areas with the highest moose densities.

In parts of the Idaho Panhandle, moose densities range up to 1.5 moose per square mile. That’s historically high for this area, said Hayden, who will discuss the proposed changes at a 7 p.m. meeting tonight at Fish and Game’s Coeur d’Alene office, 2885 W. Kathleen Ave.

The Fish and Game Commission will consider the changes to moose permits at its Jan. 27 meeting in Boise. Moose are trophy animals, with permits sold through a lottery system. About 40 percent of the moose harvested by hunters come from the Idaho Panhandle.

Twenty years ago, moose sightings were relatively rare in the state, Hayden said. The ungainly giants were found in isolated pockets along the St. Joe River and areas near Yellowstone Park.

Hayden said hunting restrictions have helped grow the populations of the Shiras moose subspecies found in the Inland Northwest. People who frequent the woods have a good chance of spotting one.

More troublesome, moose are also moving into suburban developments in search of food. Though the animals often appear docile, their sheer size and lack of fear make them a threat.

Each year, Fish and Game’s Coeur d’Alene office gets dozens of calls about moose.

“People seem to like the moose the first two to three days after it shows up in their yard,” said Cooper, the wildlife education coordinator. “But when the moose starts making a noticeable dent in their shrubs, they call us.”

Wildlife biologists recommend giving the moose space.

“One of the most important things is to leave them alone,” said Kevin Robinette, wildlife program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Spokane, who also fields plenty of moose calls. “Moose are great wanderers. They tend to move on.”

When moose don’t move on, wildlife biologists evaluate whether they should be darted with a narcotic and moved by horse trailer to a remote location.

“It’s a conundrum,” Hayden said. “We don’t want to leave an aggressive moose in a highly populated area.”

But relocating animals that can weigh up to 1,100 pounds also involves safety risks, he said.

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