SPOKANE VALLEY – With an unprecedented number of winter-weary moose wandering into suburban areas near Spokane, state wildlife officials remind people to keep their distance and refrain from feeding the animals.
In the past week alone, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) regional office in Spokane Valley fielded 42 complaints of moose turning up in backyards, a school yard and on highways. Moose-related phone calls to the office have been averaging at least six a day, during this winter’s exceptionally cold and snowy weather.
In a few situations where moose have become potentially dangerous, WDFW staff have escorted, harassed, or captured and relocated moose back to more suitable habitat.
Meanwhile, they remind people that moose should never be fed or approached because of the risk they pose.
“Moose— in any situation—are potentially dangerous because of their sheer size and relatively bold nature compared to deer or elk,” said Kevin Robinette, WDFW regional wildlife program manager. “Unlike most deer or elk, moose will readily charge, attack, and even kill dogs, which they view as predators. They also can pose a risk to people and feeding them is especially dangerous. Feeding moose encourages them to approach for more food, and they can become very aggressive.”
Feeding can also harm moose. In the past month, WDFW Wildlife Veterinarian Kristin Mansfield has observed two poisoned moose. In one case, a moose had been fed corn, which is not readily digested but ferments and builds toxins in the gut. In the other case, a moose ingested yew, an ornamental landscaping plant that is toxic.
Mansfield also notes that many moose at this time of year have tick infestations that cause them to scratch and rub off large patches of hair. Depending on their condition going into the winter, some will succumb from the combination of parasites and other winter stress. Feeding will not change the outcome of this natural culling process, Mansfield said.
Robinette says he understands the desire to help hungry wildlife in the winter, but hopes more people will think about the long-term consequences.
“Not only can people directly harm a wild animal by allowing it to feed on the wrong things,” he said, “but conditioning wild animals to associate food with people puts others, and ultimately the animals themselves, in harm’s way.”
For public safety, a wild animal that attacks a human is euthanized.
The influx of moose into suburban Spokane this winter is likely due to the heaviest snow cover in a dozen years, and the area’s growing moose population, Robinette said. Currently, wildlife biologists estimate there are over 1,000 moose in northeast Washington.
For many years, a small number of moose have wandered down the Spokane River into suburban neighborhoods in late spring and summer. Most of these were female animals seeking calving areas near water or those seeking succulent forage during hot, dry weather. WDFW staff members are often called in to relocate troublesome moose.
It’s expected that this winter’s unusually large number of visiting moose will move on to more suitable habitat as snow cover melts.
Meanwhile, homeowners who observe wintering moose taking up residence on their property should follow these safety precautions:
- Teach children and others to keep their distance
- Keep dogs confined
- Secure livestock and pet food
- Stop feeding wild birds
- Secure garbage
- Cover landscaping plants if possible
- Discourage moose with noise or other harassment from a safe distance
Moose situations that prompt a safety concern can be reported to the WDFW Eastern Regional Office at (509) 892-1001.
For more about information about moose, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/moose.htm.