Mountain News: More moose and fewer willows. Any connection? 

click to enlarge WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - Roaming Critics say Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado may have too many moose.
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  • Roaming Critics say Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado may have too many moose.

GRAND LAKE, Colo. – Moose have become commonplace in Rocky Mountain National Park, which should be no real surprise. Some 24 were released not far away, in North Park, in 1978. Now 2,500 roam across mountainous Colorado.

But are there too many moose now in the national park? That's the question that emerges from several news stories this year about a new research study. Up to 40 moose are being outfitted with GPS monitors, the better to understand them and their use of their environments.

Moose were not native to Colorado, at least in the numbers they are now found. Some evidence from the 1850s exists of small numbers of transient moose, typically lone bulls, but no breeding populations.

Even after introduction in Colorado, moose mostly remained on the west side of the Continental Divide, in the Kawuneeche Valley. Ten years or so ago, says the Sky-Hi News, sightings became more common near Estes Park, the gateway town on the east side.

Monitoring of vegetation suggest more and more moose on both sides. Vegetative plots monitored on the west side showed an increase from 80 per cent having evidence of moose to 100 per cent between 2013 and 2018. On the east side, the increase was even greater, 3 per cent to 85 per cent.

Expanding moose populations have contributed significantly to the 40 per cent reduction in willows in the park during the last two decades. Willows provide 93 per cent of a moose's 24.9-kg daily diet. Elk grazing also contributes to the decline, along with a fungus spread by birds that feed on willow sap, says landscape ecologist Hanem Abouelezz.

Willows serve as soil stabilizers in riparian zones, which serve as the interface between land and a river or stream and are critical to watershed health, wildlife habitat, and overall ecosystem health, explains the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph. "Without such vegetation, the riparian zone can wash away, impacting the aquatic and terrestrial landscape."

Without grizzly bears and wolves—primary predators of moose—the willows have few defenses.

"The changes that caused the moose population to grow, the willows to die off, and the riparian zones to be impacted didn't happen overnight, and neither will the solution," Abouelezz told the Gazette-Telegraph.

Whatever is done, she added, it will not be an effort to recreate some balance that would have still existed had it not been for the large role of humans in the last 100 years.

What drove Telluride to cap time for idling vehicles

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Last winter, enforcement officers in Telluride issued 86 citations for idling motor vehicles.

The town law limits idling vehicles to 30 seconds, except on cold mornings. In adopting this law some years ago, the town council had two motivations. The foremost need, says Hilary Cooper, who was then on the council, was to improve air quality. Telluride, she said, was in out and out of attainment with air quality standards.

"But conservation of fossil fuels was certainly a consideration," she tells the Telluride Daily Planet.

"I believe there was a growing national recognition of the harm of excessive idling as well."

An idling vehicle emits 20 times more pollution than a vehicle traveling 48 km per hour, according to the Sierra Club. The organization estimates that idling cars emit 40,000 tons of carbon monoxide daily in the United States while wasting $13 million and consuming 14.3 million litres of fuel.

It once was believed, correctly, that warming up an engine was good before driving it. The Telluride law concedes that notion, with its three-minute allowance in cold weather. However, studies have found that 30 seconds will easily suffice, even in cold weather, and longer idling actually harms a motor.

Several other Colorado mountain towns also have laws limiting idling. Aspen allows five minutes per hour, but the vehicle must be attended at all times. Basalt allows just two minutes. Winter Park goes as far as 15 minutes.

Colorado has a state law that limits idling to no more than five minutes per hour, but it only applies to commercial vehicles weighing in excess of 6,350 kg. The state law allows 20 minutes per hour when temperatures dip below -12 Celsius.

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