Moose on the mesa: DOW, U.S. Forest Service to host informational event on Grand Mesa

Shiras Moose were intentionally re-populated on Grand Mesa.

072510 moose file

Shiras Moose were intentionally re-populated on Grand Mesa.

Wildlife management is a topic fraught with controversy, whether it’s something as relatively simple as stocking fish (remember the dustup over whether greenback cutthroat trout were stocked in western Colorado?) or reintroducing a long-gone species into what might or might not have been its natural habitat.

In this case, the latter example refers to the intentional re-population of Grand Mesa by Shiras moose, which are thought to have wandered around the mesa at least part of the year long before such records were kept.

Initially proposed in 2001 by Mesa State College professor Bruce Bauerle and Collbran physician Roger Shenkel, the reintroduction project by the Division of Wildlife to put moose back on the mesa was immensely aided by the division’s unprecedented job of reaching out to its constituency.

This included a two-year habitat study and countless hours of face-to-face time with ranchers, local communities, sportsmen and the general public, many of whom had genuine concerns about another mega-ungulate taking up space and forage on the mesa.

That first transplant finally took place on a snowy day in January, 2005, when three moose from the herd near Creede — a cow and two young bulls — stumbled from a DOW horsetrailer into the knee-deep snows of Harrison Creek on the north side of Grand Mesa. Their hasty departure into the forest might have been aided by the crowd of excited well-wishers, including a very pleased Bruce Bauerle and Roger Shenkel.

“This is a dream come true,” said Bauerle that day while waving a bottle of Moose Drool brown ale (you have to know Bauerle to really appreciate the sight).

Shenkel, too, was glad to see the project finally put some hooves on the ground.

“I knew there was good moose habitat up here, and people just love seeing moose,” he said later that day shortly after the trio of moose trundled off into their new home.

Today, five years into the experiment, we all know having moose in our backyard has proven to be a pretty cool thing and the positive aspects certainly appear to outweigh any negatives.

To that end, the Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service, which is an important partner in this large-animal reintroduction, are sponsoring Grand Mesa Moose Day on Saturday with events starting at 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Ward Lake Visitor Center on Grand Mesa.

The visitor center is just off Colorado Highway 65 on the Cedaredge side of the mesa.

According to the DOW, the free activities will include moose-viewing information (no promise of a moose being present), presentations on moose biology, history and how the current moose got to Grand Mesa, and a moose puppet show.

From that initial threesome turned loose in 2005, the Grand Mesa herd today is estimated at around 150 animals.

“Moose sightings are always fun for people and they’re becoming more common on Grand Mesa as the population grows,” said Trina Romero, the DOW Watchable Wildlife coordinator. “This event will teach people safe ways to see the moose and some great facts about moose in Colorado.”

And speaking of the curious balance between projected and actual, the runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir continues to drop as dry weather continues to dominate the upper Gunnison Basin.

Forecasters from the Bureau of Reclamation in May predicted 560,000 acre-feet of water into Blue Mesa through this month but the mid-July number is much lower: 495,000 acre-feet.

One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons and according to one source, your emerald-green lawn uses 0.3 acre-foot per year, about 267 gallons per day.

In order to meet future demands, maintain storage levels and extend “decent flows through the summer,” the Bureau announced this week releases from Blue Mesa have been cut by 50 cubic feet per second.

Anglers can expect to find around 600 cfs down the Gunnison River below the East Portal.

Finally, Powderhorn Ski Resort gives us something cool to think about while the thermometer seems stuck close to the 100-degree mark.

The resort’s annual season-pass sale starts Aug. 1 with deals on every pass, from the adult full-season ($450) to the family four-pack ($1,224) and everything in between.

Mid-week passes, always a great deal if you can slip away on a weekday, also will be on sale.

Tune ‘em up — it’s less than four months to opening day.

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