Urban moose mob overwhelms game wardens

A cow moose beds down near the drive-thru lanes of the Wells Fargo Bank in Jackson. The moose is one of a number that have taken refuge in Jackson in the face of unusually deep snow in the area. (Photo by Ryan Dorgan, Jackson Hole News&Guide)

By Mike Koshmrl

Jackson Hole News&Guide

Via Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — The typical complaint call that Kyle Lash has received about moose in recent weeks goes something like this: “There’s a moose in my yard that won’t leave and I don’t know what to do.”

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department warden, along with his colleagues, has been inundated with calls from residents and visitors worried about moose lingering near bus stops, lunching at McDonald’s, napping in front yards and stubbornly sticking to plowed and compacted trails and roads. The sheer volume of moose reports has been unprecedented, and it’s not coincidental that the snow depth in Jackson on Tuesday topped out at 28 inches — tied for 1952 for the deepest snowpack ever for a March 19.

“I would guess I’ve responded to somewhere upwards of 50 to 60 calls, mostly over the last four weeks,” Lash said. “Ninety-nine percent of them, we’ve left the moose where they were. We’re just trying to ask the public for some acceptance of them being there.

“Our advice is that they go around the moose if there is a way around,” he said. “If you don’t need to get into your garage or can go around, just let the moose leave on its own. From experience, when we go in and try to chase a moose off of somebody’s property, a lot of the time it leaves aggravated, and then you have an angry moose running down the street, which could be dangerous for other people.”

There are plenty of cases where law enforcement officers do want to hear from people concerned about wildlife, like if a moose is acting aggressively, being harassed by a dog, or clearly gravely injured.

On Monday — a day Lash took five moose calls — he hazed away one bedded animal that was preventing a Wilson woman from entering her house for over an hour by hiking around and approaching from the backside. The same day, responding to other reports, he found himself at McDonald’s watching a moose stand on a good-size snowbank to access the buds of an aspen tree.

“As we were talking it went from McDonald’s to Wells Fargo on its own,” he said.

It didn’t take long for calls to come through from folks who were worried about the moose near the bank.

“Needless to say,” Lash said, “we’ve been getting overwhelmed.”

Teton County Sheriff’s Office deputies have been helping ease some of the burden of responding to the calls, which are often dispatched through law enforcement anyway. Clay Platt, the county’s investigations sergeant, sorted through the log to determine that dispatchers had handled 137 wildlife calls since the calendar flipped to February.

“That’s a lot of wildlife calls, period,” Platt said.

Summer, when the long-legged, dopey-looking ungulates frequently cause traffic jams, is ordinarily high time for moose calls to police dispatchers. This winter, though, moose are in the lead. The breakdown: 68 calls about moose, 40 deer, 14 elk, five bison, three trumpeter swans, two coyotes and one call each about a wolf, bighorn sheep, a bear, a fox and a duck.

“The majority of these calls is people saying, ‘There’s whatever animal here and I’m not sure if it’s injured but it’s just strange,’” Platt said.

Calls of faint blood spots left where moose are bedded — a by-product of ticks and mange — have been repeated this winter.

Other calls have proved more unusual, like the time a man got the cops called on him for “threatening to punch a moose in the face,” Platt said, belligerent behavior that earned a public intoxication citation. There was a moose that took advantage of an open garage, and the snow-free ground it provided, to lay its head.

It’s the high snowbanks, in Platt’s view, that partly explain the uptick in moose and humans sharing the same spaces and sometimes conflicting. The sometimes head-high berms can trap animals on the roads that humans have built through their habitat.

Part of Lash’s job is dealing with the sad aftermath of what happens when moose are funneled downhill toward roads. Four times recently, in places like Fish Creek Road, Highway 390 and Highway 22, he has been dispatched to haul off a hapless moose that was hit, and more than once he’s had to end the animal’s misery.

Longtime Jackson Hole resident and wildlife activist Lorna Miller recently witnessed the unpleasant reality of a moose being trapped on roadways. On Monday she watched a jogger nudging a moose down the road ahead, the same moose that had just been pushed by a car going the opposite direction.

“The jogger could have made the choice to turn around, but they did not,” Miller wrote in an email. “Humans have choices, and we can choose to do our best to help wildlife survive.

“I think some [people] simply don’t understand that at this point in a winter like this, animals’ lives are hanging by a thread,” she said, “and that our actions can easily fray that thread, leading to their death.”

Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke also stressed the importance of striving for coexistence during what’s easily the toughest time of year for the valley’s native inhabitants.

“These are the hardest weeks for an animal,” Gocke said. “Moose and deer are pretty much all over right now. Give them space; control your pets.

“We’re in this situation until things melt, and hopefully that’ll come soon,” he said. “Until then, we need to be patient.”