Posted by: columbiahighlands | April 14, 2011

Highlands wildlife: moose

Moose in Betts Meadow, a private conservation easement adjacent to Quartzite proposed wilderness area. Photo: Eric Zamora.

The largest member of North America’s deer family, moose (Alces alces) are easily recognized by their long, gangly legs paired with massive shoulders, and the presence of palmate antlers on bulls. In the Pacific Northwest, we have the Shiras moose, which, although the smallest subspecies of moose, is still quite impressive: bull moose antlers can span over six feet and weigh up to fifty pounds.

Moose are almost exclusively east-of-the-Cascades residents: of the thousand or so moose estimated to live in Washington, almost all can be found in the Selkirk Mountains of the Columbia Highlands. In fact, the first reported moose sightings in the state, in the 1950s, were in the South Fork Mountain roadless area, part of the Mountain Caribou proposed wilderness area near Sullivan Lake.

Moose are equal-opportunity foragers. In the dry forests of northeast Washington, they act as a pioneer species, browsing the nutrient-loaded new plant growth that springs up following disturbances such as wildfire. However, they are most at home in the various wetlands of the Columbia Highlands, such as Betts Meadows, a private conservation easement adjacent to Quartzite proposed wilderness area, or Bunchgrass Meadows in the Mountain Caribou proposed wilderness area. These ponds, marshes, swamps and meadows offer a variety of aquatic plants and woody species such as willow and water birch for moose to munch.

Perhaps it’s the “Bullwinkle effect”, their ungainly gait or their curious manner, but it’s easy to forget that moose can be dangerous when provoked. Rather than run when threatened, moose may kick and stomp with their sharply pointed hooves; bulls can also bear down with their massive antlers. Smart recreationists yield a wide berth to these unique animals. Nonetheless, seeing a moose in the wild is an awe-inspiring experience.

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Responses

  1. That’s a great photo of them! I’m pleased to say there are quite a few in this immediate area too. While scouting for elk last fall I walked almost into a huge cow: she looked like a bus! Awesome and beautiful animals!

  2. I haven’t seen any up close in the Columbia Highlands, but I’ve seen plenty of tracks, especially on the Thirteenmile trail and in the South Fork Mountain area. They stick to the well-worn trails in the winter to save energy, so I’m glad I’ve never run into one!

  3. I saw and photgraphed a cow with two calves on Cache Creek on the Colville Nation a couple years ago.


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