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Moose sightings

Dick Mason

Staff Writer

They may forever be a novelty in Wallowa County, a sight that stops traffic faster than a blinking red light.

Still, believe it or not, moose are taking root in Wallowa County.

The county presently has between six and 10 moose. Most are in the Wenaha Unit of northwest Wallowa County. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Vic Coggins, based in Enterprise, believes that a calf might be born this spring in the Weneha.

"There is a good chance since we have documentation of cows and a bull together,'' Coggins said.

Biologists have been able to monitor Wallowa County's moose with the aid of hunters who have been returning with photos. These prove enormously helpful when hunters include dates and locations with the photos.

The last sighting of a moose in the Wenaha Unit was a bull spotted in mid-January, said Enterprise ODFW Biologist Pat Matthews.

Most Wallowa County sightings have been in the Wenaha Unit. But moose are occasionally seen outside of the unit. Wallowa County's most recent sighting was on Jan. 30 in the Imnaha Unit, where a 2- to 3-year-old bull was spotted.

Hunters occasionally mistake a moose for elk. This happened in the early 1990s when a hunter shot and killed a young cow moose in Oregon just south of Walla Walla after mistaking it for a female elk.

In addition to size and antlers, color is a key difference between moose and elk.

"They (moose) are so dark, you might mistake one for a black mule,'' Coggins said.

Wallowa County moose sightings date back to the 1960s, Coggins said. They were infrequent until two to three years ago when sightings increased. Previously, moose were spotted far apart in the county. It has not been until recently that they have been seen in the same area.

Washington and Idaho connections

Moose are likely coming into Oregon from Washington and Idaho, which have growing populations.

"They have really expanded their range,'' Coggins said.

Moose are not believed to be native to Oregon. No bones or historical records have been found indicating that moose previously lived in Oregon, Coggins said.

A number of moose have come into Northeast Oregon from Idaho by crossing the Snake River. It is an easy swim for them, said Bill Brown, a retired director of the ODFW's Northeast Region.

Brown speaks from experience. He first saw how adept moose are at swimming in 1942 when he was in the Army. Brown was on a troop ship crossing from Vancouver Island to another island when he heard frantic yells of "Torpedo!''

Fortunately, the torpedo turned out to be a moose swimming the 1 1/2 miles between the two islands.

"One and half miles is nothing for a moose,'' Brown said.

Brown, a biologist, worked in the ODFW's Northeast Region from 1949 to 1977. He said that Northeast Oregon moose sightings were rare during this time. The best remembered was a young bull that appeared on the Oregon side of the Snake River below Hells Canyon. The bull remained there for several months before disappearing.

"I always thought that it must have starved to death,'' said Brown, explaining that the area had little to feed on.

Brown does not recall sightings of moose in Union County during his tenure with the ODFW, although there was an unconfirmed one near Meacham.

The moose now in Northeast Oregon will not have any natural threats until wolves move into the region from Idaho, which they are soon expected to do.

"Wolves are the only real predator of moose,'' Brown said.

Cougars do kill moose. But cougars are not as much of a threat because they attack individually and not in packs. A moose can fend off a single cougar by getting in front of it. Even cow moose, which do not have antlers, can ward off a cougar.

"A moose can kill a cougar with its front feet,'' said Brown, who moved from La Grande to Northeast Washington about three years ago.

Brown lives in a rural area where he sees moose near his home almost every day.

"I have to be careful when I go outside,'' he said.

Brown explained that there is a cow moose with a calf that comes near his home. Moose are dangerous to be around, especially when they are protecting their young.

Regardless of the circumstances moose tend to behave in a fearless manner.

"A moose is like a grizzly," Brown said. "It does anything it wants.''

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