By Mike Koshmrl
Jackson Hole News&Guide
Via Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON — A stream of phone calls this winter from Alpine residents irked by a cantankerous bull moose living off grain faithfully left out in a feed trough prompted wildlife managers to take action this past week.
To the dismay of one neighbor and the delight of others, Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife biologist Gary Fralick disabled the big ungulate with a tranquilizer dart and then hauled it to a wilder environment just south of Jackson. His reasoning was that the moose was a hazard to the neighborhood’s human inhabitants, behavior he had experienced firsthand.
“On Jan. 10, I tried to move the bull off of a property, just to see how he would respond,” Fralick said. “He didn’t move. He pinned his ears at me, which is a sign of aggression.”
When Fralick sent a stream of bear spray at the irascible animal, it “didn’t really react.”
“He just walked away,” he said.
Fast forward a few weeks and more phone calls from worried people had filtered in. After finishing up some elk counts Friday on the feedgrounds south of Jackson, a handful of Game and Fish employees took advantage of the manpower at their disposal and drove down the Snake River Canyon to move the moose.
“It went off without a hitch,” Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke said. “The moose was standing there. It was pretty easily darted, went down in 10 minutes, and we winched it on a tarp into a horse trailer. By the time we got to South Park it was up and ready to go.”
At least one resident of an Alpine neighborhood that abuts the Bridger-Teton National Forest foothills leading up to Ferry Peak was not pleased with the outcome. Patty Green, a devoted moose feeder whose operation has created neighborhood warfare, had grown familiar with the bull biologists relocated, and she insisted the animal was gentle.
“I have a lot of witnesses to prove he wasn’t aggressive,” Green said. “There were other people that were with him, fed him, stood by him, took his picture — and he was never aggressive. I could even put my hand on him if I wanted to. He would let me.”
As a general rule, petting moose is not advised.
Part of the reason animals in the Alpine neighborhood have tamed is they come in close quarters with people on a daily basis to eat a pricey grain medley the veteran moose feeder has distributed for years. Green’s backyard has in turn become a spectacle and a draw for wildlife photographers.
Although banned in Teton County and discouraged by wildlife managers, backyard wildlife feeding is legal in Lincoln County and much of Wyoming. State legislators have tried on several occasions to get statutes on the books that would criminalize the activity, but the efforts have failed, leaving counties that want to prevent feeding reliant on hard-to-enforce zoning regulations.
Neighbors of Green say her moose-feeding operation creates a hazard by attracting 500-pound animals into a residential neighborhood. One resident who’s been especially critical of the wintertime moose congregation did not respond to the News&Guide’s request for an interview, but Gocke summed up the neighborhood dynamic as deeply divided.
“There’s a lot of unhappy people that she feeds those moose,” Gocke said. “And there’s nothing they can do about it.”
Gocke was unsurprised that the outcome was conflict. The moose had reportedly damaged signs in the neighborhood, and wire and bird feeders near peoples’ homes.
“Any time you bring animals into close proximity with people, you’re probably bound to have some kind of conflict,” Gocke said. “That’s why we discourage feeding.”
Fralick knows from experience that moose, which have a tendency to be ornery in the winter, aren’t always compatible with people. While opportunistic bears frequently earn headlines when they’re trapped and relocated, the same fate occasionally befalls moose, too.
“We take human safety very seriously,” Fralick said, “and I’ve moved and translocated at least 10 moose since I came to the Jackson area 26, 27 years ago.”
The other relocations, it’s safe to say, were not executed with the backdrop of an 87-year-old woman pleading that the moose be left alone, which is how Green recounted Friday’s events.
“I begged them,” Green said. “They wouldn’t listen, and they told me to get out, that I was interrupting their work. I finally said, ‘You just want to take this big animal because he has fabulous horns.’”
Fralick confirmed that the moose’s paddles were sawed for the animal’s safety, both to keep its head upright while sedated and to prevent it from injuring itself once it came to in the horse trailer. Although the antlers were given to Green as a memento, the gift fell short of winning her favor.
“They brought me the horns,” she said, “and they were not nice about it.”