When I recently joined the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council (INWC), I signed up for several committees. Sometime later, the council secretary called to ask if I wanted to go chase a moose. It seems one of those committees I signed up for was the "moose police."
The moose police is a group of volunteers that helps the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) handle moose-human interactions. On my first tour of duty, three of us gently herded a cow moose and her calf away from a home near the Little Spokane River. At first she didn't like the idea. It was late summer, and the watered lawn and succulent shrubs tasted better than the dry brush in the woods. But she eventually got the message.
Since then I have learned more about the program -- some from its leader Dale Williams, INWC's big game chairman, and some from Woody Myers, WDFW ungulate biologist (a deer, elk and moose specialist) and the program's coordinator.
The long-term reason for the program is the remarkable increase in Washington's moose population. From the first modern day moose sitings in the early-1950s, Washington's moose herd has grown to approximately 1,000 statewide. Careful management, including closely controlled hunting and an aggressive anti-poaching program, has something to do with this. But logging is probably the main reason. Moose thrive when forage grows to the proper height, usually several years after an area is logged. Recent years have seen increases in such forage in northeast Washington. That trend is expected to continue, so the moose herd should also grow for some years.
Most of Washington's moose live in northeast Washington, although moose numbers may be growing in north central Washington's Ferry and Okanogan counties. Recent helicopter surveys estimated that 180 moose live in eastern Spokane County. Moose densities around Mt. Spokane and its foothills are comparable to the highest groupings found so close to an urban area anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.
These days, moose country is also people country, so moose-human interactions are common. A typical case begins when a family wakes up to find a moose in the back yard. Often this is a young adult, sent off by its mother to find a new home. It may also be a cow and her calf. Antlered bulls are a rarer occurrence.
If this happens to you, keep your family (especially pets) away and contact WDFW for advice. Moose are wild animals, no matter how tame and gentle they look. Like all wild animals, moose prefer to avoid danger by leaving the scene. However, unlike deer, they are large enough to attack when they or their calves are threatened by bear, wolves, mountain lion and other predators (people included). Evolution and experience have trained them to do that skillfully.
The eviction of the animal may require a visit from the moose police. The formation of our group makes an interesting tale about how people should, and should not, interact with wildlife. A cow moose recently decided to spend the winter near Chatteroy. Apparently local residents began feeding her, possibly by hand -- not the thing to do. She lost her natural fear of humans, and that spring and summer she appeared in yards around Perry Road. For this habit, WDFW staff named her Trouble. Her new calf earned the name Little Trouble by following in her footsteps.
Myers had to decide what to do. If all else failed, he knew destroying Trouble and Little Trouble might become necessary. To avert that, he initiated an experimental program in partnership with the INWC. Council members used cow bells, pellet and paint ball guns, and a variety of other devices to restore Trouble's original (and necessary) respect for humans.
So far it has been a happy story. Along the way Trouble and Little Trouble acquired radio collars. Now Myers knows exactly where they are. When we last talked, Trouble was hiding in the woods near Mead. Presumably she was having another calf. Hopefully, the calf will not become Little Trouble II. As it is with moose, she chased Little Trouble off to fend for himself, so she could care for her new calf. After wandering a bit, he found a new home in the woods around Perry Road, near where he probably was born.
A decade ago a moose in someone's yard was news. Now WDFW deals with that or something similar about once a week. This convinced Myers and Williams to continue the experimental program. The moose police are one of a growing number of joint WDFW-INWC efforts to restore wildlife to the region and increase the public's enjoyment and awareness of them. Others include viewing sites for mountain goats and bighorn sheep in northeast Washington. Soon there will also be elk viewing stations near Spokane.
For more information, call the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife's Spokane office at 456-4082.