WENATCHEE — Three wayward moose spotted in the Wenatchee area in just over a month may be an indication the state’s growing population of the large, gangly animals is searching for new territory.
“They are really starting to spread out,” said Woody Myers, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist for Eastern Washington. “We are seeing them adapt to living in arid lands that are not typical moose habitat.”
Moose that once lived exclusively in the wetter, mountainous and sparsely populated northeast corner of Washington are now routinely spotted throughout the eastern part of the state, including three that have visited Wenatchee since the end of May and one captured near Royal City earlier this year.
Last week, state wildlife officers captured a young bull moose at a residence on Eastmont Avenue in East Wenatchee — just 400 yards from where they captured another moose in May. The latest moose encounter began earlier in the week, when the young male and an adult female were seen swimming across the Columbia River and then wandering into Riverfront Park in Wenatchee.
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They crossed the river several times before officers in boats coaxed the animals to swim down the river toward Malaga, said Sgt. Doug Ward of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Wenatchee. He said wildlife officers were limited in how they could deal with the two moose because Randy Hein — the only veterinarian in the Wenatchee Valley who is licensed to administer the strong drug needed to tranquilize a moose — was out of town.
Late last week, the male wandered through the Fred Meyer parking lot in East Wenatchee, startling a couple sleeping in a motor home, and then at the east end of the George Sellar Bridge.
As they tracked the animal’s progress through the city, wildlife officers were able to reach Hein on the telephone and get his permission to get the tranquilizing drug.
Officer Graham Grant was able to shoot the 800-pound animal with a dart gun. It then ran through a chain-link fence and lay down in the yard next to a home, Ward said.
Several Douglas County firefighters showed up with a salvage tarp and helped carry the animal to a horse trailer. It was examined at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Wenatchee and then released back into the wild at an undisclosed location away from Wenatchee, Ward said.
Moose sightings in the area have been increasing, he said. In recent years, they have been seen swimming the Columbia River near the Beebe Bridge, Sun Cove, Orondo and also south of East Wenatchee. The animals are usually seen swimming from the east side of the river and then disappear to the west and are not seen again.
The state population of moose has grown steadily over the last 10 to 15 years, Myers said.
The first confirmed moose sighting in Washington was in the 1950s, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. By the 1970s, there were 60 moose in the state. Today, there are between 1,000 and 2,000.
Myers said the population is likely growing because of good habitat.
Moose like to eat vegetation in early stages of regrowth following disturbances like fires, logging and clear-cutting. With an abundance of fires and logging sites in the region, they can continue to spread out and multiply for years to come.
As their numbers go up, they are showing up more and more in unusual places. One was seen on the WSU campus last year.
Normally, about a dozen moose are tranquilized in the urban Spokane area and relocated each year. But state wildlife officers had already dealt with eight of the animals in the city by mid-June.