Updated: Oct 19
By Yonah Cohen, IPWA Volunteer
Moose are a majestic and iconic species in Colorado, but did you know that moose are not considered “native” to our state in terms of having had a stable population here historically? According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), there were reports dating back to the 1850s of only a few stray moose wandering into the state from herds in Wyoming. “These strays were probably just transient animals seeking new habitats, but they never came in large enough numbers to establish a stable population here. Biologists think moose might have been expanding their ranges slowly southward and may have eventually established themselves in Colorado on their own.” (CPW Moose page)
From 1978 – 1992, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) introduced 136 moose from Utah and Wyoming to establish stable breeding populations and provide hunting opportunities. Since then, Moose have thrived and spread throughout the state. Today, Colorado has one of the fastest growing populations of Moose in the U.S. with over 3,500 moose.
Moose are Colorado's largest mammal weighing 800 – 1,200 pounds and can be very unpredictable and dangerous due to their relative lack of fear around people and their size and speed. Moose incidents are more common during the fall “rut” or mating season (September-October) and in the spring and early summer months when mothers protect their young calves. Moose are active year round and have been reported chasing skiers in the backcountry and even chased a snowboarder down the slope at a busy ski area. Moose instinctively dislike dogs due to their similarities to wolves, their top predator. Dogs, small or large, especially those off-leash, can trigger a moose to charge and seriously injure dogs and people.
Watch the short video below from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:
According to a recent article published in the Colorado Sun newspaper (Human-moose conflicts are on the rise in Colorado. Who is to blame — humans or moose?, October 6, 2023), there has been a rise in human-moose incidents this year, including four recent attacks in the mountain communities of Nederland, Cold Springs, Ward, and Rollinsville, that left people with severe injuries. In the U.S. more people are attacked by moose than any other species of wildlife!
The article cited an increase in human-wildlife conflicts with not only moose, but other species like mountain lions, in the “wildland-urban interface of the Roosevelt National Forest where neighborhoods full of people push up against the Rocky Mountains.” From 2017-2022, Colorado Parks and Wildlife documented 21 people being injured by moose in the state, although the numbers may be higher since people may not always report incidents. Boulder county saw the highest rate of incidents, with 6 reported during that time frame.
The term moose comes from the Algonquin Indian word “moosewa” meaning “eater of twigs”. The mountainous areas of Boulder and Gilpin counties (where the Indian Peaks and James Peak Wilderness areas are located) have prime moose habitat with riparian areas near streams and lakes dominated by willows and aspen, their main food sources.
In the Indian Peaks Wilderness and James Peak Wilderness areas (including the Brainard Lake Recreation Area), moose sightings and interactions are on the rise due to the overlap of moose habitat with popular trails frequented by hikers, bikers, skiers, and other recreational users.
As Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance (IPWA) volunteers, we help educate visitors about Leave No Trace principles, including staying a safe distance from wildlife and keeping dogs leashed. This past season, IPWA volunteers reported numerious moose sightings, including one volunteer reporting seeing 9 moose in one day! On that particular day, the volunteer saw 118 people and 19 dogs (with two off leash). There were several reports of moose charging people and dogs, which could have easily taken a turn for the worse. Several people reported a mama moose protecting her calf by charging people who got within 25 feet of them (which was way too close!). In another incident, a large bull moose chased an off-leash dog back to its owners who had to run for cover. The dog was kicked badly and had to go to the emergency vet for medical care.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife reports that more than 80% of moose attacks that result in injuries are triggered by dogs. Moose view dogs of any size as predators and may attack them, especially if they are off leash. It’s the law to keep dogs leashed in wilderness areas for this very reason – to protect wildlife and keep people and dogs from getting hurt!
The most important thing you can do to stay safe in moose country is to be respectful of wildlife by giving them plenty of space and keeping dogs under control on a short leash. The Leave No Trace Rule of Thumb is a good way to know if you're too close. Close one eye and hold arm out with your thumb up - your thumb should cover the animal completely. If you can see any of the animal outside of your thumb, you're too close. Take photos with zoom and use binoculars to view moose from a safer distance. Give moose an extra wide berth during the fall mating season and keep a lookout for calves in the spring and early summer when mother moose may become more aggressive while protecting their young.
The Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance partners with the U.S. Forest Service to preserve and protect our local wilderness areas. While the U.S. Forest Service is responsible for managing national forests and wilderness areas, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is the agency responsible for managing all wildlife in the state. Moose incidents should be reported to Colorado Parks and Wildlife so they can investigate and make informed management decisions and keep the public safe.
Review the safety tips below in the flyer from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:
To learn more, visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website’s Tips for Watching Moose page: https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeMooseWatching.aspx
Also check out the article Human-moose conflicts are on the rise in Colorado. Who is to blame — humans or moose? (The Colorado Sun, October 6, 2023).
More news articles about recent Moose attacks: