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Moose might run loose on Grand Mesa

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Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2002 12:00 am

Russell Smyth

MONTROSE -- Some places exist in the outdoors where a person just ought to see a moose. That's how Roger Shenkel felt, anyway, when he drove past a certain spot on the Grand Mesa.

"Every time I drove past Mesa Lake Resorts, there's a big switchback and there's a big willow bog, and it seemed like there should be a moose there," Shenkel said.

The Grand Junction physician may see a moose in that bog someday. Colorado Division of Wildlife officials are considering a proposal to introduce a moose population on the Grand Mesa, said John Ellenberger, the DOW's state big game manager.

DOW officials might transplant moose from other parts of Colorado beginning in 2003 in an effort to establish a viable population on the Grand Mesa, Ellenberger said.

"We'd like to transplant 30-40 moose a year for two years," he said.

The idea to establish a moose population developed from Shenkel and Bruce Bauerle, a professor of biology at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Ellenberger said. They approached Ellenberger with the idea.

"They are just two private individuals interested in moose," Ellenberger said. "They are willing to spend their time and money to get that done."

Shenkel said he sees moose when he visits his parents' place near Creede, Colo., during summers. About 250 moose live in the Creede area.

"People love them," he said. "They will stand around for hours and let people look at them."

Shenkel, who has a penchant for the outdoors, likes the huge ungulates.

"I'm a family physician," he said. "I love to hunt and fish, and I love to watch wildlife. I love the outdoors."

The idea to establish a moose population on the Grand Mesa simmered in Shenkel's and Bauerle's minds for years before they had enough time to work on the proposal and approached the DOW in April 2001, Shenkel said.

"Fifteen years ago Bruce and I said, 'Boy, we should have some moose here,'" said Shenkel, who owns a cabin on the Collbran edge of the Grand Mesa.

"We picked the Grand Mesa personally because we do a lot of things up there," Shenkel said about his and Bauerle's proposal. "There have been moose through there a lot, and they either move on or accidentally get killed. … We need to get enough to where they will stay in the area."

The Grand Mesa has seen some transient moose but has not had a viable population, Ellenberger said. Some of the transient moose were shot.

DOW officials have worked with the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management to determine whether a moose transplant will work, Ellenberger said.

"We feel … (there is) suitable moose habitat, and although there will be some wandering, we will restore a population," he said.

Moose can tolerate the cold weather and deep snow found on the Grand Mesa, Ellenberger said.

"They're big, tall animals," he said. "We're talking about a … moose being 6 feet tall at the shoulder, weighing upwards of a 1,000 pounds."

Although some moose probably wandered into Colorado from Utah or Wyoming historically, they are not considered native to Colorado, according to the DOW.

DOW and Forest Service officials transplanted 13 moose from the Uinta Mountains of Utah to Colorado's North Park area in 1978, according to the DOW. The following year, officials transplanted 12 moose from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming to North Park.

Twenty moose were released northwest of Creede in 1991, and 45 more were released in the same area in 1992, according to the DOW.

The transplants succeeded, and about 1,150 moose live in Colorado now, according to the DOW. Good habitat and high reproductive rates have helped the animals thrive. Additionally, although black bears and lions may kill newborns, sick and old, moose have few natural predators due to their size and temper.

Colorado's largest moose population lives in the North Park area, including about 500 animals in Jackson County, Ellenberger said. If DOW officials approve the plan to establish a moose population on the Grand Mesa, they expect to transplant animals from North Park in January or February 2003. The division might try to transplant moose from Utah or Wyoming the following year.

The DOW has not determined a population objective for moose on the Grand Mesa yet, Ellenberger said.

"When we write our management plan, that will be identified," he said.

In addition to providing opportunities for watchable wildlife and photography, the DOW hopes to develop a huntable population of moose on the Grand Mesa, Ellenberger said. Hunters may need to wait eight to nine years after moose are transplanted onto the mesa before the population establishes itself well enough.

"It just depends on how well the population grows," he said.

Moose transplanted to Colorado in 1978 and 1979 established a healthy enough population to allow five hunting licenses in 1985, according to the DOW. The division issued a record 131 licenses for 2001, and hunters harvested 102 moose legally. The record harvest was 104 in 1995. Hunters and poachers killed 12 moose illegally in Colorado during 2001.

The cost for transplanting moose to the Grand Mesa is difficult to determine at this point, Ellenberger said; however, he estimated expenses might range between $1,000 and $1,500 per animal.

Funding would derive primarily from a sportsmen's raffle and from the DOW, Shenkel said.

"Funding is not a problem," he said. "We just offered to help them publicize it and interface with the public if they would like that to happen."

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