On June 21, the Elk and Vegetation Management Plan (EVMP) Crew asked as many of us from the Vegetation Crew as possible to help them with a special task: remove a moose from an exclosure on the Colorado River District (CRD) side of the park.
Exclosures are set up around Rocky Mountain National Park to keep elk and moose out of select areas for wetland restoration. Exclosures include six-foot high fences with a sixteen-inch gap between the ground and the fence, allowing for smaller animals to get under the fence and deer to jump over. Gates are stationed around the perimeter of the fence for visitors to enter the exclosures. The only animals exclosures should keep out are elk, who are native to The Park, and moose who are invasive (state wildlife experts introduced moose north of The Park in 1978 for hunting purposes). Elk and moose aggressively eat willows, stripping them down to bare twigs. Willows are imperative to healthy wetlands, as they attract beaver who in turn build dams, damming rivers, thus helping keep healthy wetlands. It is likely the moose entered this particular exclosure during the winter when the snow drifts are taller than the fences, allowing for the moose to easily walk over the fence and find themselves in Willow paradise.
With a set plan in place and an extensive safety discussion going over the dangers of interacting with moose (moose weigh up to 1,500 pounds, are very protective of their young, and will charge and trample if startled or agitated), our fearless impromptu “Moose Crew” set to our task of safely removing a moose from the exclosure. As the exclosure straddled the Colorado River, we split into three teams, one team of six people on the west side of the river, one team of 10 on the east side, and one team of two in the northeast corner of the exclosure (I was one of two in the northeast corner). The plan consisted of opening two gates, one on each side of the river, allowing for two options for the moose to leave. The team on the west side would corral the moose towards the northwest gate, the team on the east side would corral the moose towards the northeast gate with the help of the northeast corner team. Moose are comfortable navigating wetlands and can easily cross rapidly moving rivers and swim in deep waters. We knew the possibility of the moose crossing the river between the teams on each side of the river.
Once in the exclosure, we quickly discovered there was not one moose, but three: a three-year-old youth, a cow, and the cow’s calf (only a 50-pound yearling). Communicating using radios, each team walked slowly in a line, talking and making noise so as to annoy, not agitate, the moose into moving north towards the gates. It only took about 30 minutes and we safely got the three moose out of the exclosure. I got within 20 feet of the youth before we corraled it out of the exclosure, and within five feet of the cow and calf – I was still in the exclosure, they looked in at me from the outside.
Though this task did not directly involve plants, it is connected to the exotics and restoration mission of the Vegetation Crew. We helped protect the wetlands within the CRD and helped remove an invasive animal from the exclosure. All in a day’s work.
(Photo credit: National Park Service https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/nature/moose.htm)