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Copter moose capture halted

Fatal crash prompts action; the animals will be trucked out

SHARE Copter moose capture halted

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources will stop capturing, for a time, big game animals using helicopters.

The announcement was made Thursday pending a review of the capture practice following a crash last Thursday that killed three men during what was to have been a routine trapping operation.

"The safety of those involved in these capture operations is our top priority, and we won't be doing them again until we've reviewed all of our capture procedures," said Alan Clark, wildlife section chief for the DWR. "Division staff are like an extended family, and we're all suffering from this tragic accident."

Killed were Jerry Openshaw, 34, a DWR biologist, along with John E. Olson, 49, the pilot, and Roger Small.

The trapping operation was called to remove between 15 and 20 moose from the Parleys Canyon area that posed a serious traffic hazard.

Four moose had been captured using a method that was pioneered by the company contracted for this operation — Helicopter Capture Service of Marysvale. While pursuing a fifth moose, the tail section of the helicopter snagged a cable across Mountain Dell Reservoir and crashed.

In the meantime, Clark said the division will return to a less efficient method of removing the moose. That is, the moose will be tranquilized by DWR biologists and then hand carried to waiting trailers.

Division personnel will also try to move moose by hazing practices, such as firing firecracker shells over the heads of the animals to get them to move away from the busy freeway system.

If the tranquilizing and hazing programs fail to reduce the threat "or become unpractical, then the moose may have to be removed by lethal means," noted a release sent out Thursday by the DWR.

"As was the case last week, we continue to be concerned about the risk moose pose to motorists and will address the problem with the most appropriate approach," Clark said.

"We're urging motorists to slow down and drive cautiously through areas where big game animals may be close to roads, especially if they're driving at night. Moose are large animals, but they're dark-colored and are very hard to see at night."

He also pointed out that moose sense no danger and will step in front of a moving vehicle without hesitation.

Six moose have been hit and killed in Parleys Canyon over the past month. A seventh was hit near the Jeremy Ranch exit off I-80. Three weeks ago, biologists counted 51 moose on the foothills of the Wasatch Front between Red Butte and Parleys canyons.

The helicopter trapping of bighorn sheep on Antelope Island, which was scheduled next week, was postponed.

The method used to capture the moose has been used for years and was the preferred method for moose because it puts less stress on the animal. A net is thrown over the animal from a helicopter. Two-man crews then blindfold the moose, hobble it and put it in a large bag. The bag is then airlifted to a staging area where horse trailers are used to transport the animal.

Officers have been forced to tranquilize and move nearly 30 moose that have migrated into urban areas along the Wasatch Front over the past month.

E-mail: grass@desnews.com