Lone moosemakes tracks in Baker County

By Dick Mason, The Observer October 04, 2010 11:23 am
The sight was unusual and sparked conversation, but not to the degree it would have a decade ago.

A bull moose was spotted in northern Baker County just south of Medical Springs less than a week ago. A photo of it appeared on the front page of Tuesday’s Observer.

The moose is one of several that have been spotted in or near the southern half of Union County over the past half dozen years. The bull moose likely came either from Wallowa County where there are between 50 and 60 moose or the Catherine Creek area where lone moose are known to reside, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Pat Matthews of Enterprise. The bull also could have come from east Umatilla County where there is a small moose population.

Moose sightings in Wallowa County are most common in the Wenaha area. Moose are also seen occasionally in Wallowa County’s Minam and Imnaha areas.

It is not unusual to see lone bull moose in Northeast Oregon outside of Wallowa County now since they are in their rut. Bulls sometimes travel great distances searching for cow moose during their rut, which runs from mid-September to mid-October.

Moose spotted most frequently in September and October are bulls. Moose seen most frequently the rest of the year are cows.

The reason is bulls stay in secluded areas and are nocturnal when not in their rut, Matthews said. Cows are spotted more often the rest of the year because many are raising young and moving more in search of food.

Moose have been spotted periodically in Northeast Oregon since the 1960s. None of these animals was known to be permanent residents. A resident moose herd began forming in 2004 in Wallowa County. The herd began producing calves in 2004 or 2005, Matthews said.

ODFW biologists monitor Wallowa County’s moose population via radio collars that have been attached to some of the animals, and winter aerial surveys. Moose are harder to spot from the air than deer and elk because they tend to be solitary or stay in small groups and stay in thick forest cover.

“They are not like deer and elk, which go into open areas,’’ Matthews said.

Hunters who spot moose anywhere in Northeast Oregon this fall are encouraged to report their sightings to the ODFW. The information they provide is valuable in helping biologists track moose populations, Matthews said.

A number of hunters likely will encounter moose this weekend in Wallowa County during the opening of buck deer rifle season. Hunters are not known to have mistaken moose for deer but on rare occasions hunters have confused moose for elk. This happened more than a decade ago when a hunter in the Walla Walla area shot a moose thinking it was cow elk. The man turned himself in and was fined for a state of Washington game violation.

The chances of this happening again are less likely since hunters have a heightened awareness of moose in this region today. Matthews believes there is a greater chance of a hunter mistaking a moose for a black bear. He explained that bears and moose are both quite dark and from some angles in a forest they might look alike.