Something I most appreciate about living in the mountains is the chance to experience nature and view wildlife in its own habitat. The first weekend we moved into our home in Nederland, I caught a glimpse of something on our front porch. When I peered out the window, at first glance I thought I saw a house cat, but in fact, it was a bobcat. Within moments it was gone, but it still seemed really cool to be living in a place where wild cats lived.
During the last two years, we have begun seeing moose in our neighborhood on a fairly regular basis. Last year, our border collie had a run in with a moose when we were out walking, and I’ve seen cow moose on several occasions off in the Aspen groves that line the road we live on. It wasn’t that long ago that you hardly ever saw a moose on this side of the Continental Divide. A mere twenty years ago, it was rare to see a moose at all in the entire state of Colorado, as moose were only reintroduced into Colorado in 1978 when 24 male and female moose were transplanted from Wyoming and Utah into North Park. Over the next several years, more moose were moved and released into western Colorado. Still, over the next thirty years, the population was relatively low and the moose were mainly found in river valleys, like the upper Colorado River near Grand Lake. But over the last several years, the moose have made their way across the Divide into the foothills of the Front Range.
Sightings have become more and more plentiful, warranting installation of Moose Crossing signs along the Peak to Peak highway and up and down Boulder Canyon. I’ve had a few heart-stopping moments myself when I was commuting to Estes Park from Nederland, spying moose standing along the shoulder while driving 55 miles per hour down the road in the early morning hours. One morning, a bull moose was actually standing on the center stripe of the road — talk about an obstacle in the road! Bull Moose can weigh over 1000 pounds, so when it come to cars and moose, it can cause serious damage to a vehicle and the passengers if you hit one.
The moose seem to be on the loose and more active than ever this spring. I don’t know if the rainy weather has increased activity, but there have been more sightings this spring than I can remember in past years. Moose tend to hang out near watery areas like lakes and streams — they are actually very good swimmers. One of their favorite foods is willow, a shrub that grows in riparian areas that tend to be moist. CDOT has been posting flashing warning signs alerting motorists that moose have been seen in the area, and to drive with caution.
So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to hear from our neighbor, Dave, about his encounter with a cow moose the other day. A favorite hiking trail for residents is a Forest Service Trail that leads from our road down to North Boulder Creek. It’s a couple of miles round trip, and makes a beautiful evening walk, with views of the mountains, wildflowers lining the trail, and culminates at a beautiful babbling creek. Dave took his two golden retrievers down to the creek the other day, only to be charged by a large cow moose. Dave reported a similar experience I had, where his one dog got too close to the moose, only to have the moose pick up her front hoof as if to kick his dog. Then the moose turned on Dave and started to charge him. Bryon and I have discussed what we would do if this should occur to us. The consensus advice seems to be to run into a tightly wooded area with lots of trees. Moose, being large creatures, are not very graceful and have difficulty navigating through densely wooded forest. Apparently, that tactic does work, because that’s what Dave did, and the moose turned around and left.
Nevertheless, hearing this story is sobering and a good reminder that we are living in a very active wildlife habitat. I think spring is particularly fraught with danger as many of our larger hoofed mammals like moose and elk are calving and mothers tend to be ornery and protective of their young. If you want to live in the mountains, you have to learn to get along with the neighbors, which includes the local wildlife. Or as a neighborhood kid said so aptly, “Remember, the moose is bigger than you!”