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Saturday, October 31, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Conflicts arise when moose descend on Spokane to beat summer heat

A cow moose feeds along the shore of Lake Sherry in Stevens County. Although tick infestations can cause a moose’s normally dark-brown hair to become gray, biologists say this moose may be a naturally gray-phase animal. VICKIE GARNER SIENKNECHT PHOTO
A cow moose feeds along the shore of Lake Sherry in Stevens County. Although tick infestations can cause a moose’s normally dark-brown hair to become gray, biologists say this moose may be a naturally gray-phase animal. VICKIE GARNER SIENKNECHT PHOTO

With warm summer weather just around the corner, Spokane residents will start searching for a cool place to chill.

They won’t be the only ones.

Moose prefer freezing temperatures to balmy breezes. And their search for a cool spot often brings them into our backyards, whether its lying in a recently watered lawn, under the shade of a tree or even a backyard pool.

Although the mountains are flush with snow this season, it’s not unlikely that moose sightings will increase in the Spokane-urban area.

Moose and human conflict was the topic of the final session of the annual North American Moose Conference held in Spokane this week. The weeklong conference featured moose experts from across the United States and Canada. They presented research on habitat, population and diseases, among other things.

On Friday, JoLynn Beauchene, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officer, spoke about her experience managing human-moose conflicts in the Spokane area.

“There is really just a lot of ignorance when it comes to wildlife,” she said. “I think a lot of peoples’ education comes from Disney. I’ve had to tell people, ‘Listen it’s not going to break into song. This isn’t a rags-to-riches story.’ ”

The truth is, moose are dangerous and people should give them plenty of space. She said all too often she sees people in Spokane feeding or otherwise attracting the animals. In one particularly glaring incident, a local restaurant was feeding a moose lettuce.

“A lot of them are treated like pets, treated like they’re tame,” she said. “I’ve had folks trying to move their kids up to a moose to get a selfie with it.”

The last anecdote drew sighs of exacerbation and concern from the crowd, most of whom work professionally with wildlife in some capacity.

WDFW conflict specialists deal with problem moose in a variety of ways. First, they will try and scare them away. In recent years, WDFW officers have shot paint balls at the animals in an attempt to drive them out of the area. If that doesn’t work, or if the moose is a repeat offender, conflict specialists may tranquilize and relocate the moose.

If the moose is aggressive and persistent, officials may kill the animals. The meat is donated to local food banks.

“(Lethal removal) is usually the last option we use, but public safety is our primary concern,” said Beauchene.

Following her talk, other experts from Idaho, Wyoming and British Columbia talked about their experiences and insights into moose-human interactions.

But for many, interacting with wildlife is a near unknown. Tim Thomas, a wildlife biologist in Sheridan, Wyoming, said retirees moving to Wyoming from more urban settings have no idea how to coexist with wild animals.

“You have this large group of people who live in these urban settings who don’t know how to live with wildlife,” he said.

With decreasing numbers of hunters and increasing numbers of city dwellers, what might have been common sense in previous generations is becoming something people have to learn.

For wildlife biologists, that means outreach and education are increasingly important components of their work. In an effort to do that, Beauchene created a short video of her and another WDFW agent trying to untangle a moose from a playground set near Spokane.

The video racked up the views.

“Folks really are interested, not just in wildlife but in moose in particular,” Beauchene said.

Moose first came to Washington from Canada and Idaho six decades ago. The first confirmed moose sighting was made in Pend Oreille County in the early 1950s. Surveys in the early 1970s estimated a population of about 60 moose. The first hunting season was opened in 1977.

Since then, the population has grown. Between 4,000 and 6,000 moose live in Washington, despite the fact that in other parts of the country populations have declined – down as much as 70 percent in Minnesota. A recent study out of Minnesota indicates that parasites carried by deer in Minnesota’s North Woods are the leading cause of moose death.

Since the winter of 2013-14, James Goerz, a University of Montana doctoral student, has been tracking and monitoring radio-collared moose north of Spokane as part of a multiyear study. The study was designed to shed some light on how and why Washington’s moose population has grown over the past decades. It also anticipates a time when the population declines and looks at the relationship between moose and predators, including wolves.

The field-work portion of the study finished this year. Goerz is analyzing the data.

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