Michigan Moose Slaying

     I guess I’m not the only one who doesn’t like to see a moose get shot!

Moose killing riles Michigan town, puts residents at odds with police

Some residents of the town of Ishpeming, Mich., are furious at police officers and a state biologist who killed a female moose that wandered into town, leaving its twin calves to fend for themselves during the winter.

Brian Roell, the Department of Natural Resources moose biologist in nearby Marquette, said Tuesday that he and the police had no choice: A crowd of 100 to 200 people had harassed the moose for seven hours, taking pictures and thwarting police efforts to shepherd the animals out of town.

"If they want to know who to point the finger at," Roell said, "they should point it at themselves."

Roell said the decision to shoot the moose was made about 3:30 p.m. Monday, when a nearby school was about to let out, after officers tried for hours to get the animals to leave the city of 6,000. The three moose were first spotted on the east side about 8:30 a.m., and at one point, the local highway, U.S. 41, was closed to traffic.

"People are yelling that we should be fired," Roell said, "but we had to make a tough, unfortunate decision."

Police Chief Jim Bjorne said: "We would not have had to kill that cow moose if the public did not act like the paparazzi, chasing it around like it was some type of Hollywood movie star."

Plenty of residents say the officials made an unconscionable decision. And their anger appears to be spreading.

Take Richard Tyynismaa, 64, a longtime resident. "The police are taking a lot of heat," he said. "We would like them to explain the hows and whys of what happened. I find this totally offensive. There is absolutely no reason for putting that cow down. If she was acting erratic, it’s probably only because she was just trying to protect her calves."

Moose calves normally would stay with their mother for the first winter. Roell, who has spent much of his career trying to re-establish moose in Michigan, said calves are weaned from their mother’s milk by now and these twins, about 5 months old, were big enough that they had a good chance at survival. The calves have since moved out of town.

Marquette station WLUC has a six-minute video on its Web site showing the three moose, looking peaceful and almost bored at about 10 a.m., wandering through a nature trail and staring down a police vehicle as residents gather to watch and to take photographs.

"Our Web site has never had so many hits," said assignment editor Richard Hill.

On the site readers compared Bjorne to Barney Fife, accused officials of animal cruelty, wagged a finger saying "shame, shame" and charged "if they are here to protect and serve, who and what are they protecting us from?"

By 1900, moose had been wiped out in the Lower Peninsula and almost so in the UP. The DNR estimates the UP has about 400 to 500 moose, virtually all descendants of 59 that were trapped in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park in 1985-87 and trucked or flown to a release site on the Baraga-Marquette county line. Michigan traded Ontario 150 wild turkeys for them.

Spread out across the 20,000 square miles of the UP, the moose are rarely seen by humans, and a moose in a town in the UP is about as rare as a deer in downtown Detroit.

The WLUC Web site, however, did splash "Moose Invasion" as its big headline, over a map of the UP and picture of a moose.

The sight of three moose attracted so much attention in Ishpeming that the DNR’s Roell called it "utter pandemonium." Officers successfully shepherded the moose out of town in the morning, but then they returned.

"The reality of the situation was we had a 1,000-plus-pound cow moose trying to protect its young," Bjorne said, "while there were entire families with little kids who treated the situation like it was a day at the zoo."

Although moose normally are docile and avoid people, they can be dangerous. Males can become so aggressive during the fall breeding season that they will attack other animals and people. Mushers in Alaska’s Iditarod sled dog race say their major hazard is moose, which view sled dogs as an approaching wolf pack and respond by lashing out with huge, sharp-edged hooves that can kill a dog or a human.

Moose also are subject to brainworm, a parasite that is common in white-tailed deer but doesn’t harm them. A moose infected by brainworm will die, but before it does it may do odd things such as walking into a town and ignoring people who come within a few feet. Roell said the Ishpeming moose probably wasn’t a victim of the disease.

Roell used these words to describe the events that led to the shooting:

"The police thought they had it out of town about 10 a.m., but it came back. I don’t know why. Several times we’d get it moving, but a lot more people had heard about it and came down to look. They kept blocking our way.

"About 3 p.m., we got it on a snowmobile trail and had it moving in the right direction. We only had one more road to cross, but when we got to it people were waiting, jumped up in front of us and the moose went right back into town. …

"People were ignoring orders from the police to stay away, and the police chief said he didn’t have enough officers to control them.

"I saw the moose almost run over three different" groups.

"It wasn’t that she was aggressive. She was panicked and stressed and wanted out of town. Several times we had her going that way, but people blocked her path and turned her back.

"We had a school nearby that was going to let out. We were in a situation where there was a high probability that someone was going to get hurt, so we made the decision to use lethal means."

Roell said tranquilizing the moose was not a viable option.

"The drug we use, carfentanil, is a synthetic opiate that’s 10,000 times more potent than morphine," he said. "We were in a city. If we shot and missed, and didn’t find the dart, what if it had been found by a kid?

"The moose was very stressed and hot. She was so full of adrenalin she wouldn’t have gone down very quickly, and you have to give an antidote or the moose will die. What if we shot her with it and she ran away and we couldn’t locate her? Or if she went down in an area where we couldn’t get at her with a vehicle? You need a forklift to pick up a moose."

Roell said the moose had been butchered and the meat given to the Salvation Army.