It had to happen. If the wolves hadn't chased the moose from Washington and Idaho into Oregon, some sportsman's group would have suggested it. After all, we have a turkey shooting group, an elk hunter's bunch; why not a moose-hunting club?
But moose-hunting won't be like so-called "wild" turkey hunting. Turkeys have never been native to Oregon, but moose have—even if it was in the long-ago days of the Pleistocene, when I was a kid-on-the-farm.
Woolly mammoths, giant sloths and the Pleistocene moose fossils have been found in Kentucky—which is a lot farther south than Oregon, and probably they're the same species wandering around Alaska today, Alces americanus. There was also the "stag-moose" in this neck-of-the-woods, albeit quite different from any living today in the Northwest.
But by golly, moose have finally made it back to Oregon in enough numbers to start a herd. Several years ago, there were over 50 adults and calves reported in the Blue Mountains, around Elgin in NE Oregon, and the latest tally is over 60 today.
Pat Mathews, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist over in Wallowa County, said, "over the years, there have been sightings of individual animals, but it was only in about 2005 that we knew we had a resident herd."
So, there you have it. It's official, moose are here (not the big guys from Alaska, but a smaller, Shira's Moose found in Wyoming and nearby states), and from all appearances, they're here to stay.
Although easy to mistake a moose for an elk—or vice versa—moose have a distinctive appearance, but keeping track of them isn't all that easy. Moose, generally speaking, are solitary animals that like living in fairly remote areas, away from people.
Biologists use words like secretive, solitary and elusive to describe the ungainly-looking creatures, which migrated into northeastern Oregon from the Spokane-Pullman region. To come here, they had to cross the wide-open Palouse Prairie into Oregon's Blue Mountains.
At first, counting the animals consisted of recording sightings by forest service workers and the occasional hunter. But, with the knowledge of a resident herd, ODFW biologists thought it best to begin formal aerial and ground surveys. A census project was initiated that included radio collaring a few adult animals to gather data important to species and habitat management, population status, calf survival, mortality, habitat use and seasonal movements.
"We conduct aerial surveys in the winter when the moose are in deep snow and easier to spot," Matthews states. "During the winter of 2008, we radio collared several animals, which provides us with additional information. For instance, in the summer we can locate the collared individuals and determine if they are accompanied by calves. We can also learn a lot about how they use habitats by following them through the year."
Back in the late '40s and '50s, ODFW wildlife biologist Paul Ford wanted to know the same thing about our resident mule deer; he was also curious how far west they went in summer, and where they spent winter. He got a bunch of cowboys from Prineville to help him gather a hundred or so deer out near Horse Ridge and put them in a round corral.
Then the rodeo started, he and the buckaroos roped the deer, one-at-a-time, blinded them with blankets over their heads, placed a large white numbered collar and a big cowbell and let go. Hunters found them easy to spot, but they couldn't be shot—legally.
Quite a number of those belled and collared deer were found near Roseburg by late summer (and produced black-tail/mule deer hybrids); then they wandered back across the Cascades to spend winter keeping warm under the junipers around Horse Ridge—a movement that stills goes on today.
So, do you think moose have a future in Oregon? Do you think ODFW will be selling Moose Tags one of these days?
Matthews didn't hesitate to answer that one. "Yes, definitely. We know moose have naturally been expanding their range south. We have a lot of good habitat here and the moose are finding it on their own."
As far as habitat goes, it is believed that moose in Oregon will be largely dependent on riparian corridors and deciduous growth that occurs following active timber harvest, control burns, or natural fires, along with dense stands of mature conifer timber. Over in the Ochocos they will probably drive ranchers nuts when moose invade grazing allotments and private ground with all that delicious riparian they require.
If you see a moose in Sisters—wandering around Shevlin Park, or your backyard—contact the local ODFW office. They probably won''t believe you, so send them a photo. For more information on the Blue Mountain Region moose, visit ODFW's website, www.dfw.state.or.us.