As a young bull moose stood in about four feet of water Monday afternoon, officials trained in various types of rescue operations did their best to figure out a way to save its life.
But the moment the moose jumped the barbed-wire fence and slid down the steep, concrete sides of the Esquatzel Diversion Channel six miles north of Pasco, its fate was sealed.
At sunset, state Fish and Wildlife Officer Brian Fulton killed the moose with a single shotgun blast using a slug that produced instant death.
"There was really no other way to handle the situation," he said.
Tranquilizing it was impractical, he explained.
"With moose, you need to use a special drug, one that's very potent (deadly) to humans and not readily available," he said. "And with the moose standing in water, it would drown before we could get him out. The only other solution would have been to let nature take its course and leave him to drown or perhaps been fed on by coyotes," Fulton said.
If the moose could make the five-plus-mile trek to the end of the canal, its only possibility of freedom would have been to survive going through a steep flume and be dumped into the Columbia River.
"The gunshot wound was a pretty quick and efficient way to humanely put it down," Fulton said.
While waiting for Fulton to drive from Toppenish, officials at the scene brainstormed various scenarios for rescuing the moose.
Cpl. Gordon Thomasson of the Franklin County Sheriff's office called veterinarians and dairies for ideas. Franklin County Sheriff Sgt. Jim Dickenson called Washington's Fish and Wildlife Service — which in turn contacted Idaho's.
Fish and Wildlife officials told them to stay away from the animal, warning that a kick from a moose -- especially one weighing about 1,000 pounds -- could be deadly.
"They said moose are extremely aggressive animals," Dickenson said.
Lassoing and dragging it up the side of the 20- to 25-foot canal was discussed and dropped. Officials also tried to chase it down the canal toward the flume and the river. Firefighters from Franklin Fire District 3 tried to herd it with streams of water from their hoses. Others tossed small rocks, clapped, whistled and yelled to get it to go downstream.
It simply turned and returned to sit on a large clump of grass growing from the side of the canal. Every 30 minutes or so, the moose would get up and stride anxiously a couple hundred yards up and down the canal.
"We're willing to try everything we can to give him a chance. The last-ditch effort is to shoot him," Thomasson said during the afternoon.
Even if the moose drowned, leaving it in the canal might be dangerous.
"It's a dangerous situation," said Pasco Fire Chief Bob Gear, who drove to the site out of curiosity. "The water in the canal is deep and fast. If someone were to be tempted to go in there after those antlers, they could drown."
After the moose was shot, Columbia Basin Dive Rescue workers wrapped a cable around it, and American Towing in Pasco pulled it from the canal.
"Sometimes, Mother Nature is hard," Fulton said.
The meat will go to the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission in Pasco. Two Richland Rod and Gun Club members, Lyle Gilk of Richland and his son Barry of Benton City, field dressed the carcass and will deliver it to the mission.
"They pretty much have a vegetarian diet over there. They're always glad to get some meat," Lyle Gilk said.
He said moose in the Mid-Columbia is uncommon but not unheard of.
"Every once in a while, one wanders this way," he said.
Gilk said he saw one last year, and two calves were hit by cars last fall in College Place.
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org