One got caught in soccer netting. Another locked antlers with a backyard swing. The most fanciful report told of a moose wandering near Peak 7, festooned in Christmas lights.
A growing moose population throughout Summit County has recently led to increased encounters of the wild kind. That’s why Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is stepping up efforts to educate the public on laws that prevent eager spectators from feeding moose or any other wild animals.
The agency, which is tasked with protecting the state’s diverse group of wild animals, made public a video on Tuesday, Jan. 26, of a bull moose tangled in a backyard swing in Breckenridge from this past November to help better portray the dangers of attracting wild animals to residential areas.
Meanwhile, local wildlife enforcement has tended to a growing number of calls over similar situations since, including a moose caught in a soccer net in Frisco last week, and unconfirmed reports of another moose with Christmas lights wrapped around its antlers.
It may be a nice surprise to spy a moose strutting down your street, explained Tom Davies, district wildlife manager of Silverthorne, but attempting to lure one into a residential area is unsafe for people and animals alike.
“Moose are by far the most dangerous animal in North America,” he said. “Between their size, demeanor and having no natural predators in the area, they don’t fear anything in Colorado. Moose are unpredictable and if people get close, they’re just as likely to charge as run away.”
In most cases, people don’t realize that feeding wildlife is against the law. A violation carries with it a citation and fine upwards of $140, in addition to demerits against hunting or fishing licenses. A court summons is standard for repeat offenders.
Whether you’re trying to bait moose for hunting purposes or simply trying to achieve a more picturesque view, it makes no difference. The law is clear — the act is illegal.
“There is a misconception, but there is no distinction between feeding while over hunting or feeding them in your backyard,” explained Mike Porras, CPW’s northwest region public information officer. “It’s the same law. It may seem harmless, but the animals can become food-conditioned and will aggressively seek food.”
When wildlife becomes familiar with locating food in a particular place, they will, like an alley cat, consistently return to the area. This can lead to human interactions becoming routine to an animal, though they remain wild and prone to unpredictable behavior. This may result in injuries to people, pets or the animal itself.
Bears are prevalent during the summer, along with foxes, while moose are more widespread during winter, as they are not a migratory species. Foxes, coyotes, elk and other big game also remain in the vicinity during ski season, and it’s during these cold-weather months, said Davies, that tourists and locals alike may have the false impression that they are helping an animal in a more barren period of the year.
“A lot of people are worried animals will starve,” said Davies. “They’re wild animals, and they’ll survive just fine without people feeding them, and actually survive longer because they won’t have to deal with people. When wildlife finds food this way, they’re just taking the easiest route to them.”
Aside from the potential for being killed by CPW because of interactions with humans, wildlife experience several other negative consequences from scrap offerings. Those include increased rates of harmful encounters with dogs, being hit by cars, disease, as well as digestive issues from eating foods to which their systems are not accustomed. Chips, candy and hot dogs, were examples CPW officials gave.
Feeding birds is permitted. But if other animals begin to appear — deer, elk and bears have a taste for birdseed, for example — people must immediately remove the feeder. There is no latitude, however, with putting out salt blocks or last night’s dinner.
Human food can even change the behavior of a wild animal, impacting migration patterns, and in the case of deer, create resident populations that remain year-round. That might on its face seem desirable, but it also means rising numbers of predators like mountain lions will be attracted to the area as well.
“If deer are present in a residential neighborhood, you can almost guarantee lions are not too far behind,” warned Porras. “That poses a threat to human health and can contribute to the death of the lion if it gets comfortable in a populated area.
“Enjoy the wildlife,” he added, “but do it responsibly and from a distance. Don’t approach, don’t harass, don’t feed.”