When Ashlin Staso came in to work at Leslae Delpiaz’s law office Friday morning, something was waiting for her.
“I came in and had a text from Leslae to not be alarmed, but there were moose in our building,” she said.
Next to the building, to be precise. A cow moose and her calf had bedded down in the alley beside the East Pine Street office building. They were likely the same pair spotted in the Rattlesnake earlier this week. When they arrived in downtown, authorities didn’t take any chances.
“It’s not, obviously, a great situation for the moose,” said Ben Jimenez, a researcher with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, as he assessed the situation. Although herbivores, moose can become dangerous if provoked, and the surrounding buildings, cars and people made that a distinct possibility.
The Missoula Police Department notified residents of the pair via an automated phone call shortly before 7 a.m. Friday morning. It urged them not to approach the animals, and to give them plenty of distance.
But as word spread Friday morning, wildlife-watchers nonetheless sought a glimpse. Johnnie Sloan had just driven students from Ronan Middle School to the Missoula Art Museum for a field trip, and couldn’t miss this opportunity. An avid outdoorswoman, Sloan explained that “I actually spend a lot of time looking (for moose) and I don’t get to see them,” she said, peering into the shaded alley where the mother and her calf remained.
As the morning wore on, the Missoula Police Department closed the block to traffic and onlookers. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks personnel weighed their options. When the calf emerged from the alley and wandered toward Washington Street, police officers and game wardens kept distance between the moose and pedestrians.
“This is absolutely beautiful. This is such a blessing to be able to see,” said Jason Gardiner as the bull calf picked his way through the snow. Gardiner had parked his pickup truck on the corner of Washington and Pine and was watching the action with his daughter Ava. They had recently moved to Missoula from Seattle and were enjoying the proximity to nature. “We moved here because we wanted a better quality of life, and so far it hasn’t disappointed,” he said.
But it couldn’t last. When these 7-foot cervids wander into urban areas, “it’s kind of a balancing act between the health and welfare of the moose and public safety,” explained Joe Jaquith, warden captain with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Around 11 a.m., with no way for the moose to safely leave the heart of Missoula, wardens shot them with tranquilizer darts and loaded them onto a trailer. It took 11 people to move the 800-pound cow.
When two moose — probably the same pair — were spotted in the Rattlesnake earlier this week, wildlife officials decided not to tranquilize them. The main reason, said Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Jamie Jonkel, was the difficulty of moving them through the deep snow. Previously, wildlife officials had also stressed that animals had difficulty retaining body heat when tranquilized.
But the animals’ downtown location made for a short haul to the trailer, and the temperatures were in the 30s Friday. Jaquith said both the mother and year-old calf appeared to be doing well once they had been loaded onto the trailer. By early afternoon, they were headed to the upper Ninemile drainage, said Jonkel, a bear management specialist who was also on hand for the relocation.
A video posted to FWP's Facebook page showed both moose leaving the trailer in the snowy landscape Friday afternoon and eventually running off.
"Although you can see a barn in the background of this video, the duo are on their way to open, forested land," the post assures viewers.
Jonkel and his colleagues have long had to deal with animal incursions in Missoula. “We’ve got wonderful moose habitat all around us,” he said. “Sadly, the way the city has been put together by humans, there’s not much thought placed on the landscape” for the needs of wildlife.
Human residents need to keep their distance from urban animals, he said, voicing disappointment with the rush to see Missoula’s moose pair on Friday.
“The time to try to see a moose is not when it’s in the middle of town, stressed,” he said. “Just like people need to have good manners around people, they need to have good manners around wildlife, too.”