ASPEN — An uptick in moose sightings near Aspen is prompting fresh warnings and trail closures.
U.S. Forest Service officials are discussing a moose management plan, including dog limits for the Maroon Bells area, after some moose sightings near hiking trails.
Wildlife managers have identified seven moose in the area, The Aspen Times reported (http://bit.ly/1oaPUqh). Forest Service officials said that the agency closed a scenic loop on the upper end of Maroon Lake last weekend.
"We have that trail right by the water and (the moose) are right there," said Martha Moran, recreation staff supervisor for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. "We had to close that off, and people weren't happy."
Officials with Colorado Parks and Wildlife said it's a matter of time before a wildlife observer or a hiker with a dog provokes a moose attack.
Mature cows and bulls weigh up to 1,200 pounds, said Perry Will, the agency's Area 8 wildlife manager. They don't like being disturbed by people, and they especially don't like dogs, which they associate with wolves, one of their few natural predators.
A moose will charge a dog with the intention of stomping it. Loose dogs often retreat to their owners, bringing an angry moose with them. Although no moose incidents have resulted in injuries to humans in the Maroon Bells, there have been injuries in other parts of the state.
"Every moose incident we have has been dog-related," Will said.
But moose also will get agitated when people come too close.
"People aren't used to moose," Will said. "If they're focusing on you, you're too close."
Mike Porras, a spokesman for Parks and Wildlife, said moose are "big, fast, powerful animals, and they're not afraid of people." Moose will stand their ground rather than retreat when people come too close.
"People are thinking that moose act like deer and elk, and they don't," she said. Deer and elk typically flee, unless protecting calves.
Moose sightings in the area were rare before last summer. This summer, the moose started appearing about three weeks ago. They generally roam Maroon Lake and the Stein Park wetland, though they range farther.
Stephanie Duckett, a terrestrial biologist with the wildlife agency, said in an interview in January that the Maroon Valley moose likely wandered over the divide from the Crested Butte side of the mountains. Moose were introduced along the Taylor River in the Almont area, between Crested Butte and Gunnison, she said, and they are branching out as the population increases.
Moose also were reintroduced to the Grand Mesa area and settled in the Crystal River Valley.
Moran said there is evidence that moose are spreading in the Aspen area beyond Maroon Valley. "We just had a report of moose in Difficult, a couple of them," she said, referring to the Difficult Campground area about 4 miles east of Aspen on Highway 82.
A moose also was spotted Tuesday on the back of Aspen Mountain.
If problems intensify, the moose can pay the ultimate price. Even if a human wanders too close or a dog provokes a confrontation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife's policy is that a moose must be destroyed if it injures a human. Wildlife officers and the Forest Service have posted signs at Maroon Bells explaining the need to give moose their space.
Information from: The Aspen Times, http://www.aspentimes.com/