Bullwinkle sighted in the heart of Rhinelander
Usually squad car cameras document high speed chases or intoxicated driver arrests, but Rhinelander Police Officer Chad Brown filmed a different sort of event while patrolling Rhinelander streets on the evening of Sept. 24. That’s when a 911 call came in about 9:30 p.m. reporting a bull moose hanging out in Pioneer Park in the heart of the city.
“My main concern was that it would get hit by a car,” said Brown. “Once we got to the park though, the moose started walking away so I followed it.”
The ungainly, antlered animal sauntered off behind Bessey’s Meat market and then made its way behind the city’s water wells ending up on Timothy Lane. That’s when Brown decided to flip on his squad car’s video camera. He also illuminated the moose with a spot light. “My main concern was that someone would come down the road and not see the moose and hit it,” he said. “Those animals are so big that when they are in your headlights all you see are legs.”
While Brown admits he’s not much of a Facebook user, Rhinelander Police Chief Mike Steffes, decided to post the video in the Rhinelander Police Department’s Facebook page. It’s been a big hit. “It’s gotten a lot of attention on the site and generated hundreds of comments,” said Steffes. “People are really fascinated by it.”
And this animal continues to make the rounds. Citizens have reported seeing it near the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department as well as near the YMCA trail and even on Oneida Avenue. There have also been sightings along Hwy. 17 and off Hwy. G as well.
“They definitely cover wide areas,” said Jeremy Holtz, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources and a wildlife columnist for the Star Journal. “Moose sightings in Wisconsin are not unusual though. Usually there are 20 to 40 in the state at any given time.”
Holtz believes many of these animals travel here from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. “This is really their southern most range,” he said. “They need really cold winters to survive mainly because of parasites. The cold kills these organisms which can actually kill a moose if not kept in check.”
Moose were reintroduced to the U.P. in the mid 1980s in an effort to establish a breeding population. They are also indigenous to northern Minnesota. “Almost every time we get reports of moose sightings it’s in the fall of the year,” said Holtz. “The end of September and the beginning of October are when moose go into the rut. That’s when female moose drive their young away to mate and so these young animals have to find new territories.”
While the winters here may not be long or cold enough for moose, they do find the environment in northern Wisconsin suitable as far as forage goes. “They like to eat submerged plants so they need lots of lakes and streams and we have plenty of those in this part of Wisconsin,” said Holtz.
This isn’t the first moose to make its appearance in the Rhinelander area. Last year many reports came in of a female moose hanging around east of town. In late February last year the “Monico Moose” was killed by a car. “It was determined that moose was pregnant with twins,” said Holtz. “We also did some tests on the animal and the results came back that it was healthy. It wasn’t suffering from any of the diseases that can kill these animals. Moose are solitary animals and distant relatives of deer and elk. They can also suffer from such diseases as Chronic Wasting Disease.”
While moose are a game animal in many parts of the country, they are a protected species in this state and with hunting season opening in the area, sportsman need to take great care before they aim. The forfeiture for killing a moose in Wisconsin can be up to $2,150 plus restitution for the animal which can be an additional $262.50. Fish and Game laws also allow the courts to seek revocation of all DNR privileges and approvals for up to three years from the date of conviction.
Hopefully this moose makes it through the hunting season in addition to staying off local roads and highways, but for now it’s getting celebrity status on one local Facebook page. “People really seem to be fascinated with these animals,” said Brown. “I’m glad I got a chance to make sure it made it back into the woods and document it on camera.”