Apparently, at least one person’s world didn’t stop when a young moose trotted across his or her path this past Saturday night. It was dark, the way mountain skies are — natural, quiet — until a driver came reeling through a popular moose crossing area — and collided with a young moose trotting behind his mother.
Did the driver have their high beams on? No one knows. Perhaps it may have even prevented the tragedy.
The southbound road to Rollinsville — the scenic, well-traveled Peak-to-Peak Highway — just outside of Nederland is a frequent moose corridor. The collision occurred a half-mile outside of town, and not far from the site of last year’s moose tragedy, in which a 2-year old moose was struck and killed at the turnoff for Eldora Ski Resort at State Highway 119.
What happens in this area? As a local, I can say — people speed frequently, feeling the freedom of the open Peak-to-Peak Highway, cruising into town. Too frequently, they fail to yield to reduced speed limits.
Should the driver have been surprised by the presence of a several hundred pound moose crossing the road? Should he or she have been driving sufficiently slow — the area is posted at 35mph — to brake and avoid a fatal encounter?
Yes, of course, you should expect moose up here in the mountains. Moose have been multiplying prolifically — for several years now. And — Yes, of course — if the driver were going 35mph, they likely would not have struck the unsuspecting yearling. It’s well established that reduced speed limits increase the chances of survival for a crossing animal.
But they did — and the baby, maybe even a yearling, was a male still bonded to his mother. Lying in the ditch, witnesses report he was unable to get up as his back legs were injured. Witnesses gathered helplessly. Not unlike the baby bear crossing Boulder Canyon last autumn who was struck in front of his mother, the innocent yearling cried as he lay there helplessly. His mother watched helplessly from the edge of the forest nearby.
Animal lover and advocate, Jill Bielawski with Animal Help Now witnessed the aftermath of the tragic event. She used the Animal Help Now wildlife emergency app to find a local mammal rehabber, but the closest one was far away in Granby and did not answer the phone. Meanwhile, Colorado Parks and Wildlife was directing the officer by phone to shoot the moose. With every passing moment, the animal continued to suffer, lying still in the ditch. His watery, glazed eyes reflecting in the moonlight.
It was clear that this yearling was fatally injured. The Nederland police officer charged with the lamentable duty of compassionately ending his suffering carried it forth with courage. But such undertakings are never without an emotional toll — for all involved.
Did the driver stick around to witness the ramifications of their actions?
Sadly, not. It’s my understanding he later made a call into the Nederland Police to report the collision, with remorse.
Over 1 million animals lose their lives on America’s roadways daily. When it comes specifically to moose, they are up here in the mountains outside of Boulder, sometimes down in town perusing the storefronts on the Pearl Street Mall, or trotting along panicked and lost as far east as Flatirons Crossing. They’re crossing and trotting along the asphalt as we’ve paved their paradise. Forced to survive in a constructed, developed world, their existence is imperiled every time we are distracted, inebriated, stoned, speeding, or simply unsuspecting.
We are literally out there running into our own wildlife. Taking it down as though it were never in short supply. There’s so many moose around, people say. They’re a major pain, getting into our yards, sleeping next to our homes, I’ve heard others carp. Bring back the wolves, they’ll take care of the moose, some advocate. (To which I agree — and hasten to add — Will we run into and over them, too?)
The beauty of seeing a moose trot across the landscape is becoming a little less rare than it once was. But if we’re not careful, it may become rare again, indeed. Americans are a future-oriented society, in that we feel the wildlife is in such abundance, it will never cease to exist. But when we take wildlife for granted, running into and over it as though it were inconsequential to our very own existence, we contribute to the erosion of compassion and increase indifference in our culture.
We are all interdependent, connected with and impacting each other — whether we know it or not. The witnesses to Saturday night’s fatal collision will be impacted for days, grieving and feeling a little less hopeful about humanity. The officer carrying out the fatal act of compassion — heartbroken. I know him well enough to say that he’s a devout animal lover.
Accidents happen, collisions occur. The driver on Saturday night — the 3rd of March — couldn’t or wouldn’t stop to comprehend the harm committed. We can all speculate, and none of us but the driver him or herself will ever know. Not that any of it makes any difference to the grieving mother, who will be looking for her lost yearling. The yearling’s body was removed for human consumption. Would it have been better to allow it to remain in the forest for her observance? Some feel it would have.
Moose grieve the loss of their offspring the way many mammals do. They need to see it lifeless, in order to process and comprehend.
Can we all drive with more awareness and compassion for the animals in our midst, understanding that they, too, are just trying to make it across our developed landscape, to quench a thirst or branch out into new territory? Springtime is arriving soon — and along with it, we will see more yearlings, cubs and other youngsters trailing and flailing behind their mothers — can we help them be a little more seen by ourselves and by others?
We all want to be seen. So does wildlife.
What can you do, if you encounter a struck animal on the road? Download the app for your Smart Phone — Animal Help Now — to give the animal a fighting chance.