The Fish Lake Basin has become the home of what is believed to be the southernmost herd of moose in the world.
Although individual moose have been sighted as far south as Marysvale, Piute County, there has never before been an attempt to establish a herd this far south.Approximately 20 moose were captured in the Uinta Mountains. Marksmen in a helicopter first shot the animals with tranquilizers, then placed them in horse trailers for a road trip of nearly five hours.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officers say the Fish Lake Basin is a perfect habitat for moose.
Unlike other large game animals, snow doesn't bother moose. They have been known to spend entire winters in deep snow. Moose prefer to eat aquatic and phreatophytic plants, mainly willows. However, they can survive on upland shrubs and grasses, as well as twigs and saplings.
Conservation officers and Forest Service personnel hope to establish a small herd in the area, but that will depend almost entirely on humans.
Although the habitat is ideal, other attempts to transplant moose in ideal circumstances have failed due to interference by man. A concerted effort has been made to establish a herd in the Manti-LaSal National Forest. In 1973, 18 animals were transplanted from the Uinta Mountains to the Manti Mountains. In 1974, 19 more were moved to the Manti and in 1978 six more.
Due to a high number of illegal kills, a viable moose herd had not been established as of 1986. However, an additional 26 moose were planted on the Manti in 1987, and conservation officers are hoping these most recent efforts will prove successful.
Although a sizable population of moose exists in the Uinta Mountains, that has only been the case in recent years. The first sightings of a moose in Utah was in 1906 or 1907. At that time one was killed at the head of Spanish Fork Canyon.
The next sighting didn't come until 1918. In that year a cow and calf were reportedly sighted in the Beaver River drainage on the north slopes of the Uintas. During the next few decades sightings in the Uintas were occasionally reported. Although a population was apparently starting to grow in the Uintas, it wasn't until 1947 that a year-round resident herd existed in Utah.
From about 1950 to 1957, the moose population on the Uintas' north slope increased significantly. In the spring of 1957, 59 moose were counted during the first aerial survey made specifically to count moose.
During this same period beaver also flourished on the north slope. It has been speculated that the increase of marsh areas and willow caused by beaver activity was a major contributing factor to the increase in the number of moose.
Aerial trend counts since 1957 have shown a fairly uniform increase in the population. Counts in 1986 and '87 have found over 400 moose on the north slope.
As populations in the Uintas increased, satellite populations began to develop in Chalk Creek, adjoining the north slopes on the west, the Ogden River and Lost Creek drainages and further north into the Cache and Rich county areas. The populations in those areas have also continued to expand.
Although expansion of moose in areas peripheral to the north slopes has taken place at a fairly regular and reasonable rate, other areas of the state have suitable habitat. The Manti Mountain transplant, and now the Fish Lake Basin transplant, are efforts to utilize that habitat.
Conservation officers hope a viable resident herd of moose can be established in the Fish Lake area.