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Monday, August 21, 2006 - Page updated at 10:01 AM

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Oregon moose population is booming

State wildlife biologist Pat Matthews doesn't have to see the moose to know they're moving into Oregon from neighboring Idaho in record numbers.

The 118 piles of droppings he saw on a walk along an overgrown logging road in northeastern Oregon told the tale.

There may be about 30 moose, including eight bulls, in the northeast corner of Oregon, immigrants from Idaho.

There are probably more, Matthews said.

Moose have been reported in northeastern Oregon since the 1960s, usually in ones and twos. But the animals now are probably at their highest number in state history, Matthews said.

"It is really no surprise they are finally getting into Oregon," Matthews said.

In Idaho, the moose population climbed from 500 in 1947 to 20,000 last year, according to Idaho wildlife officials. Their numbers also have expanded in Wyoming and Utah, Matthews said.

They seem to like shrubs and foliage that bloom after logging operations and wildfires.

They have been seen swimming across the Snake River into Oregon from Idaho in recent years, said Mike Hansen, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

They appear to be spread through northeastern Oregon's canyons and forests north of Elgin, good moose habitat.

A week ago, a driver in an SUV ran into and killed a year-old cow on Interstate 84 near Meacham. The driver was unhurt, but as moose numbers rise, so could the danger from accidents.

In Maine, where 29,000 moose roam, transportation officials reported 3,365 vehicle crashes involving moose between 1999 and 2003, and rural Aroostook County, Maine, had 1,090 moose-automobile collisions.

Matthews monitored the animals last winter, sometimes tracking them through snow, at other times keeping an eye on them from a small airplane. He found them to be generally shy.

"I tried to get close several times to get pictures," he said. "Whenever I tracked them and tried to approach, they were gone."

The Oregon moose are a smaller than the Alaska Yukon moose, he said. Bulls can weigh 1,000 pounds, compared with 1,800 pounds for the larger Alaska variety, which can stand 6 feet tall at the shoulder.

Moose tend to be solitary. During winter months, they're most comfortable in 10-degree weather and untroubled by snow that's 2 or 3 feet deep.

Moose are less likely than elk to knock down ranchers' fences and destroy haystacks, but individual animals might get into somebody's vegetable garden, he said. Cows are protective of their young and less likely than elk to temporarily abandon a calf when confronted by a cougar or bear.

Matthews said moose can be dangerous: "Climb a tree if they look like they are ready to take you on," he said.

At some point as moose numbers keep growing, Fish and Wildlife officials probably will allow hunting. "We will have to decide how we want to manage them," Matthews said. "Nobody in our department has even talked about it yet."

On the other hand, merely getting a glimpse of one probably will take luck for a while, he said.

"We've got a lot of people who spend a lot of time out there, and they haven't seen one yet," he said.

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