Word that a moose was poached, had its head chopped off and was mostly wasted in Chelan County earlier this fall enraged many on Facebook, and they shared the call for tips widely, helping game wardens searching for whomever illegally killed the locally rare big game animal.
“We are currently following up on multiple leads obtained by hunters and citizens that were in the area around the time of the poaching,” says WDFW Officer Blake Tucker today. “We have had quite a bit of help from the public, which is what is going to get this case solved.”
As a hunter, I know it’s the health of the herd that matters the most, not so much the individual animal, and that critters at the edge of their range are naturally few and far between. But this one particularly galls me.
Though there’s not a hunting season here now, one day we’ll be able to put in for a bull permit or two, yet the illegal kill north of Lake Wenatchee may have pushed that further out into the future.
This is one of two main areas of Central Washington where moose are moving to from the core of their range in the state’s northeast corner, where 178 tags were available for this year.
A WDFW map shows a number of citizen observations in the upper Wenatchee River watershed just last year.
It was here that a decade or more ago I first heard of moose in the area: One of my dad’s old coworkers, Neil B., talked about seeing one up the Chiwawa.
That was a sign, it turned out. Moose are not unlike wolves in that young ones tend to disperse in search of good habitat, and they appear to be finding it — and one another.
In 2013, reader Mike Quinn, who hunts this part of the state, began telling me about moose he’d been spotting then capturing on trail cameras.
Subsequent images from Quinn’s cams captured a couple little moose trains moving through the woods — in a 2014 photo, a cow and its bull calf followed by an adult bull, and in a 2016 shot, a cow and two calves.
The moose that was poached earlier this fall — its carcass was found about 50 yards off a logging road in the Meadow Creek area with only the head and a bit of meat taken — may or may not have been one of those animals. It’s a loss to a budding population either way.
The aforementioned WDFW map is part of a two-page synopsis of the agency’s public moose survey program for last year, which suggests a high calf:cow ratio among those colonizing the eastern slopes of the North Cascades.
According to extrapolated data from 20 observations in Okanogan County — to the north of Chelan County — one could expect 83 calves per 100 cows there.
Admittedly, the sample size is small, and state wildlife biologists, aided by aircraft and tracking snow on the ground, might come up with a different ratio.
But for what it’s worth, that figure is four times as high as citizen reports for Pend Oreille County, where moose began filtering into the state in the 1950s and where the first few tags were offered in the 1970s.
If they’re that fecund in Okanogan County, it seems probable that those in Chelan County might be doing similarly well — possibly better with one less predator currently in the portfolio.
While Alces alces is often photographed belly deep in ponds, those in this part of the state are actually benefiting from changes on dry land.
The large-scale wildfires of recent decades “have improved moose habitat,” says WDFW, and that’s included the eruption of willows and other browse across blaze-scarred landscapes.
Last month, as we pulled a mule deer buck out of an area that has seen two major fires, there on the ground were the telltale round doots of a moose. A friend found the first such pellets not far away several years ago.
While moose numbers are clearly growing, it’s unknown how many are actually in Chelan and Okanogan Counties. Ironically, biologists need more data from people who don’t actually see any to get a better idea of how many there might be.
“To obtain accurate data, we need more dedicated participants who will not only submit a report when they see a moose, but also report hours afield when they do not see any moose. For example, if you plan to deer hunt for four consecutive days, submit a report for each day you are hunting, whether you see a moose or not,” says WDFW’s moose man, Jared Oyster, in the annual survey report for 2016.
Year-over-year trends are helpful, but knowing how many bulls, cows and calves are in the area will go a long way towards setting up a limited hunt once a big enough herd has established itself.
Unfortunately, there’s now one fewer moose around Lake Wenatchee because some jackass or jackasses poached it, stealing the future from legitimate hunters.
Anyone with information on the case can contact WDFW’s regional office at (509) 662-0452 and ask for Officer Tucker.
Whomever’s guilty faces as much as $9,000 in fines and penalties and up to a year in jail.