It was a rainy, foggy day in June 2008 when longtime Lake Placid resident Art Lussi saw his first Adirondack moose near a pond on the Lake Placid Club Golf Course.
"It was a pretty majestic sight, loping through the mist," he said.
Lussi hasn't seen one since then, but his sister saw two moose swimming in Lake Placid, and he says golfers have regularly spotted moose prints in the sand traps of the course.
This moose, part of a reported family of four living near the Cascade Cross-Country Ski Center outside of Lake Placid, was spotted last weekend.
(Photo — Jason Colby)
Lussi's experience is an indication of how the population of the Adirondacks' most iconic animal is growing. With each new sighting, the reputation and popularity of the moose also seems to be growing, beating out cuter, furrier and more common animals as the unofficial mascot of the Adirondacks.
Moose were hunted out of existence in the Adirondacks in the 1800s, but they have been slowly making their way back, coming from Canada and Vermont. According to state Department of Environmental Conservation Wildlife Biologist Ed Reed, the moose population of the Adirondacks is definitely increasing.
"There are somewhere around 500 animals, and based on things that happened in other states like Vermont and New Hampshire, it could quickly double in the next five years," he said.
Lake Placid residents have reported seeing moose this year in several spots, most notably on a five-mile stretch of state Route 73 from the Adirondack Loj Road to Mount Van Hoevenberg. For the past several weeks at dusk and dawn, drivers have been parking their vehicles along the road near the Cascade Ski Center while they scan the fields and forests, hoping to catch a glimpse of the animal. There are reportedly a bull, a cow and a calf in the vicinity.
"I saw the bull two days in a row," said Art Jubin, owner of the ski center.
This was Jubin's first up-close and personal experience with moose in the Adirondacks. He thinks the allure of the moose is the animal's novelty - a sighting is still relatively rare for this region. He compared the experience to seeing an elephant or a mountain lion.
"It's something that's not usually seen," he said. "It's a rare sight at this time. When the population increases, I'm sure people won't be as interested or anxious to see one."
Jubin said he hopes the moose stick around so skiers can have a chance to see them.
"It would be nice to have them on my trails this winter," he said.
As the moose population of the Adirondacks increases, so does people's fondness for the animal.
John O'Neill, of Saranac Lake, said he has been carrying a camera with him for years in case he sees wildlife while he's driving to and from his job in Elizabethtown. He recently spotted his first moose on Route 73 between the Loj Road and Mount Van Hoevenberg.
"I think the appeal has to do with a sense of nature prevailing and a kind of pioneering spirit," he said. "For something that large to voluntarily come back to our area, maybe it offers some kind of hope that we aren't totally screwing things up."
"I think that we, as thoughtful inhabitants of the Adirondack Park, must be doing something right to see the re-emergence of an animal that had been a dominant part of the Park a long time ago," Lussi said. "Wildlife is coming back here due to the fact that there is territory here for them to use and flourish."
But few could offer any insight into what exactly makes a tall, gangly, hulking member of the deer family so intriguing.
"I don't know the answer to that," Reed said. "They really capture people's attention. They're a very charismatic animal."
Moose are so well loved that the recent illegal killing of a moose in the town of Keene sparked public outrage, including a letter to the editor. Locals are generally protective of the animals.
"I think the general public is sorry that it happened, and they feel that it shouldn't have," said Keene Supervisor Bill Ferebee. "(Moose) are on the comeback, and we would like to see them come back."
In some states in the Northeast where the moose population is larger, there is a moose hunting season, albeit a short, restrictive one. New Hampshire's moose season lasts just nine days, and Maine's season is regulated by a lottery system that grants a limited number of permits. Reed, who lives on Route 73 about half a mile from where the moose have been hanging out, said DEC officials are already discussing how they would handle a moose hunting season in the Adirondacks.
"I would expect you would see something in the future, but it depends on public opinion," he said. "It would take a legislative change to be able to do that."
A bill would have to be passed by both houses and signed by the governor to give the DEC authority to set a moose hunting season in New York. But whether Adirondackers can ever condone the hunting of one the most beloved symbols of the wilderness remains to be seen.
"What happened in other states was when the population gets so high, they are causing car accidents," Reed said. "The public opinion tends to change."
He added that the best way for drivers to avoid hitting a moose is simply to slow down between dusk and dawn.
TIP: ADMIRE FROM A DISTANCE
Some Lake Placid residents are worried that a family of moose that has been spotted regularly near the Cascade Ski Center is a potential hazard, in more ways than one.
In the moose's defense, humans are also at fault for creating a dangerous situation by reportedly getting too close to the animals.
State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Dave Winchell said the moose have the potential to be dangerous simply because of their giant size. They can weigh up to 1,500 pounds.
"They could easily inflict injury on people, even accidentally, because they are such large animals," Winchell said. "It's not that they are friendly; they are unafraid. They have few natural predators."
Winchell said the two times moose are most likely to attack a human is when a cow perceives her calf to be in danger or when a bull moose in rut perceives a person as a competitor for his mate. He said moose have been known to knock people down and stomp on them in these two instances.
Winchell's advice for moose watchers is to remain in the vehicle and take pictures from there, instead of approaching the moose.
But so far, Winchell said, the DEC has not made any attempt to scare the moose away or relocate them to a more remote area. People and moose may just have to learn to co-exist, even in a residential area.
"The moose is in its natural habitat," Winchell said. "It's not in a village or other congested area. The moose isn't doing anything wrong, and people need to respect that."
ARE MORE MOOSE SIGNS NEEDED FOR MOTORIST SAFETY?
Scotty Marshall lives on the Adirondack Loj Road in Lake Placid and has seen a family of moose a couple of times. She is urging the state Department of Transportation, through a petition, to put up moose-crossing signs along state Route 73 where the animals have been regularly spotted.
"My concern is for the moose," Marshall said, "but for safety purposes for the drivers as well. If this bull moose got hit, there's a danger someone could die."
Indeed, moose are huge animals. According state Department of Environmental Conservation Wildlife Biologist Ed Reed, they can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and fatalities (for humans as well as the moose) are much more common in a collision with them than in a deer-car collision.
"We need to rise and do the right thing to help protect the moose and human beings," Marshall said. "It's devastating to the vehicle and to human life."
Reed said the DEC can recommend that the DOT install signs, but ultimately the decision is up to the DOT.
"I'm not sure if permanent signs are warranted, but it may be a good place for some temporary signs this fall," he said.
Peter Van Keuren, spokesman for the Capital Region DOT in Schenectady, which includes Essex County, said his agency would consider putting up signs if enough people expressed safety concerns or if there was a history of animal/car collisions. The problem, he said, is that where moose will move is hard to predict from one year to the next.
"Moose have a large area where they travel." Van Keuren said. "It's not like we can identify one location where they will be."
The only moose-crossing signs Van Keuren knows of in Essex County are on state Route 28N in the town of Newcomb. The DOT put them there, he said, because whenever an Adirondack moose was found wandering on I-87, they were tranquilized and transported back to the Newcomb area, thereby increasing the moose population of that particular area. There are also moose-crossing signs on state Route 3 between Vermontville and Redford.
But installing moose-crossing signs has another down side. The favorite antlered herbivores of residents and visitors alike are so popular that the signs, apparently a coveted souvenir, are frequently stolen. Less than a week after putting the signs up on Route 28N, one went missing, Van Keuren said.
"These signs have some kind of interest with particular individuals," he said. "We do have to realize once a sign is installed it may not be there for very long."
Lake Placid resident Art Lussi also said he would like to see the DOT put up moose-crossing signs, but for a different reason.
"I think it's a definite attraction for the Adirondack Park," he said. "For tourism, it's a phenomenal draw. It would be pretty cool as people are coming into Lake Placid to see moose-crossing signs, but I guess we have to wait until their herds are larger."
Reed cautioned that putting up too many moose warnings in the Park may render the signs meaningless.
"If for every time you see a moose near the road you put up a sign, it gets to be like deer-crossing signs; nobody pays attention to them."
But for now, moose are still a novelty that people immediately identify as a part of Adirondack culture.
"We do live in a special place," John O'Neill, of Saranac Lake. "It's still wild enough that these huge animals will come back."
If you would like to sign the petition asking the state DOT to install moose-crossing signs on state Route 73, it can be found at the North Elba Town Hall. For more information, call Scotty Marshall at 524-6082 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.