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Colo. Moose Seen in N.M., State Has No Plans To Deport Errant Animal

By Jeff Jones
Journal Staff Writer
    Good news and bad news for New Mexico nature lovers:
    A pair of moose took up residence in northern New Mexico over the past few months, but one of them was found dead earlier this week from a bacterial infection.
    The state Game and Fish Department believes the moose, both bulls, likely wandered into the Chama area from southern Colorado, where they were transplanted in the early 1990s.
    The pair aren't the first moose to show up south of the Colorado border: A 1,000-pound bull was promptly tranquilized, nabbed and trucked back up to Colorado in 1995 after it showed up north of Taos.
    Game and Fish assistant director Luke Shelby said Wednesday that New Mexico returned that moose partly because it wanted to be neighborly— Colorado's southern transplant program was just a few years old at the time, and New Mexico figured that effort needed all the moose it could muster.
    But times have changed: Colorado's growing southern moose herd is now estimated at as many as 300 or more and is rapidly expanding its range.
    Shelby said Game and Fish currently has no plans to do any moose releases into this state, but it also doesn't plan to boot out any more traveling moose that may take a liking to New Mexico.
    If a population does settle in here, "we believe that would be acceptable," Shelby said of moose, which historically were found in Colorado but are not native to this state.
    Colorado Division of Wildlife chief spokesman Todd Malmsbury added Wednesday that "the south San Juan Mountains do not respect the state border— they tumble over the border into northern New Mexico. It's certainly possible that a population ... could spill at least to a limited degree over the border into New Mexico."
    Shelby said his agency over the past few months has been getting scattered reports about the pair of moose in the Chama region. The pair were reported as far south as the Abiquiu area, he said.
    Rio Arriba County residents found the dead, young bull on Monday near a campground at Heron Lake, Shelby said.
    Game and Fish took the carcass to a veterinary laboratory at the University of New Mexico, which determined it died from a common bacterial infection that sometimes afflicts big game animals and some livestock. Shelby said the infection was not contagious.
    For now, "we've got one live (moose) in the state, and we'll just be monitoring this one," Shelby said.
    Moose are the largest members of the deer family, besting even large bull elk in size.
    Colorado began reintroducing moose in 1978 when it transplanted a dozen of the animals in one northern region of the state. The southern transplant in the early 1990s took place in the Creede area north of Pagosa Springs.