Carelessly off target
Recent illegal moose deaths far from accidental, biologist says
With Colorado’s big-game season half over and two more weeks to go, the tally of illegally killed moose continues to grow.
As of Monday, 11 moose have been reported killed unnecessarily since the start of the hunting season on Oct. 15.
All but one of those moose died in the northwest region, home of most of the state’s estimated 1,700 moose.
And there is still the nine-day third season Nov. 5-13 and the five-day fourth season Nov. 16-20.
Call the moose deaths negligent, sloppy or even unethical, just don’t call them accidental, said Andy Holland, state big-game biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“There’s no accident about it,” Holland stated Monday. “It’s just plain careless, there’s no accident about it.”
You can understand the frustration voiced by Holland and the rest of the Parks and Wildlife staff, many of whom have spent long hours re-establishing moose herds around the state.
Who, you ask, can’t tell the difference between a bulbous-nosed moose and a sleek-coated elk?
Well, at least 11 hunters couldn’t.
The latest illegal kill was reported Monday near Overland Reservoir on the southeast side of Grand Mesa.
Wildlife officers say this last moose may have been initially shot by a legally licensed hunter and subsequently lost or abandoned.
It still doesn’t excuse the hunter, who faces possible fines and loss of license should he or she be found.
This year, the state issued 175 moose licenses, which means the number of illegal kills rapidly is approaching 10 percent of the total licenses available.
Last year, 14 moose were reported killed illegally, a number which doesn’t reflect the possibility of other illicit kills that were either unreported or undiscovered.
The attempts to educate elk hunters about the presence of moose range from well-placed signs to personal contacts at home and in camp.
Each year, Parks and Wildlife sends out thousands of brochures to elk hunters holding licenses for game units where moose are found.
This year, the agency mailed 23,000 brochures cautioning hunters they might encounter a moose and detailing the remarkable physical differences between the two ungulates.
Plus, Parks and Wildlife officers and volunteers, along with volunteers from Safari Club International, make hundreds of personal contacts each fall visiting hunter camps in moose areas.
But there still are 11 unnecessarily dead moose.
“We’ve done all we can do,” said Ron Velarde, regional manager for the Northwest Region. “And we still have moose kills. I hate to think what it might be like if we didn’t do this.”
It could be like 1998, the year the agency first issued either-sex elk licenses, which many hunters apparently took to mean they no longer had to determine the sex of the elk they were shooting.
That year at least 36 moose died after hunters also failed to determine even the species of the animal in their cross-hairs.
Since then, a concerted effort to educate hunters has cut back on the illegal kills although it hasn’t completely eradicated them.
Losing that many moose above what biologists expect won’t defeat the reintroduction program, but it may postpone opening some of the newer areas to hunting, Holland said.
“It could delay opening a moose season if the local wildlife staff feels the illegal kills covers what we could be able to harvest through licensed hunters,” he said.
This year, more than 15,000 hunters applied for the 175 moose tags available statewide.
“It’s still such a limited resource,” Holland said. “We have far more people wanting to hunt moose than we have licenses available. These illegal kills are such a waste of that resource.”