OGDEN — Moose thrive in the mountains east of Ogden. In fact, the moose do so well in the Ogden Canyon area that the foothills have gotten a little crowded. And for some of the more adventurous moose, the lure of additional food and a little legroom down in the valley is just too much to resist.
"A moose at 36th and Harrison isn't a happy situation for traffic," said Phil Douglass, the northern regional outreach manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "We have so many moose, they've spilled over into residential areas."
Last winter, Division of Wildlife personnel responded to about 60 calls from home-owners complaining about moose in the city. So this year, instead of waiting for moose to make trouble for motorists, homeowners and the DWR itself, division personnel decided to send about 20 moose packing to Colorado. That is, after they took the half-ton beasts on a short helicopter ride.
On Jan. 6 and 7, biologists and wildlife personnel from Utah and Colorado used a private helicopter company to pluck moose from the Ogden foothills and deliver them to trailers at Anderson Cove. There the moose were given a quick physical and a new monitoring band and loaded into trailers for the drive to Colorado, which actually has a bit of a moose shortage.
So exactly how do you trailer a moose?
About a dozen men carry the moose into the trailer, then "take the blindfold off, take the hobbles off and run like heck," said Bill deVergie, area wildlife manager for Colorado's Division of Wildlife Resources.
DeVergie said the moose will be delivered to an area with far fewer people in Colorado.
"These are moose that tend to come to town," said deVergie. "We're hoping to establish a new population in the northwest corner of the White River drainage area. We currently have 10 or 12 moose that have migrated there. We're hoping these moose will strengthen the numbers. We've got some really good habitat there in the White River Forest."
The helicopter crew had no trouble spotting moose after a wind delay Tuesday morning. Once they find moose, the "muggers" captured them by shooting a net over them.
"The traditional way was using drugs, but the net gun tangles them up," said Douglass. "They become relatively sedate and then we put hobbles on them to immobilize their legs. We put blindfolds on them and ear plugs. We just do some small things to try and minimize the stress. Thinking about it, it's got to be a pretty stressful situation for them."
While medical personnel take blood and tissue samples, wildlife personnel put monitoring devices on the moose. The whole process doesn't last more than a few minutes, and the moose are given oxygen while this occurs to help keep them calm.
This is, in fact, the fourth straight year Colorado officials have taken some of Utah's excess moose. In the past, Colorado has sent bighorn sheep to Utah as part of a trade. This year, however, Colorado just paid for the moose.
"This is a classic example of wildlife management," said Douglass. "The transplant allows us to protect habitat and deal with a public safety issue."
Moving animals from one state to another is nothing new, especially in the west. Utah has sent elk from Hardware Ranch to Kentucky, while Montana sent about 60 bighorn sheep to Utah last year.
"It's more of a need," said Douglass of the cooperation between states and even Canada. "It's not a balance thing (trading animal for animal). There is a real exchange that goes on between the states."
DeVergie said he knows of no moose dying due to the move, and, in fact, the swaps have allowed Colorado to substantially increase its moose populations.
"They've been well received in the Colorado area," said Douglass. Utahns have also been supportive of the transplants.
"It's gratifying to see how interested people are in wildlife," said Douglass. "People, especially in this valley, have strong feelings about wildlife. It's one of the neat things about living in Utah."
The moose don't just get a new home and a lot of new food sources, they also get some new fans.
"It's near a scenic byway, and it's nice to have some new watchable wildlife," said deVergie. "Our ranchers love it. All of our landowners do. People like to watch them, and they are a totally different creature from deer and elk. Everyone is very optimistic about it. It's a neat opportunity to add another species."