Moose Meadows is probably one of the most oddly named areas of Banff National Park.
Located near Castle Mountain on the Bow Valley Parkway, the name ‘Moose Meadows’ conjures images of the huge ungulates lurking behind every blade of grass.
But how many people can actually say they’ve seen a moose in Moose Meadows?
Very few, and the ones who have seen moose there tend to spend a great deal of time in the park.
“I’m probably one of the few who has seen them in there in the last couple of years. I would say it’s actually less than two or three times a year,” Frank Gee, operations manager for Discover Banff Tours, said Wednesday (Jan. 31).
Recently, however, moose have been seen consistently in the meadows two, three and even four at a time.
Gee said Discover Banff guides and their clients have seen moose in the meadows an average of five times a week.
“We’ve always introduced it as ‘this is Moose Meadows, the most unlikely place you’re going to find a moose’, and then just laughed it off. Now we’re laughing at ourselves,” Gee said.
Banff naturalist Mike McIvor said that in the 1960s and ‘70s, seeing moose west of the Banff town site was common, especially at places like Vermilion Lakes and Moose Meadows.
“In fact, one time, just as we got to Moose Meadows we saw seven bull moose walking one behind the other along the edge of the meadows,” McIvor said.
“The interesting thing that has changed, 30 years ago you went out and expected to see a moose… but as of three or four years ago if you’d see a moose a year in Moose Meadows, you’d be telling everybody about it.”
Moose all but vanished from the Bow Valley in recent years for a variety of reasons, including a loss of habitat to a growing elk population, a liver fluke deadly to moose, the re-appearance of wolves, and road- and train-kill.
According to a 2004 Parks Canada estimate, 40 to 60 of the horse-sized members of the deer family can be found in the Banff National Park boundaries.
“There’s probably no question that this part of the Bow Valley became what’s known as a population sink. There weren’t any (moose) here and if they were up Baker Creek or Red Earth Creek and they came down here they got crunched,” McIvor said.
And so what may have at one time been an appropriate name for prime moose habitat became an oddity.
But according to Jesse Whittington, wildlife specialist for Banff National Park, the moose population in the park has likely seen a resurgence in the past few years.
Every three years, Parks staff follow 150 one-kilometre-long transects located throughout Banff National Park, counting the scat of moose, deer and elk. These pellet transects gives Parks an overall index of abundance, Whittington said.
“It looks like moose are starting to increase in the Bow Valley, which is reflected in what we are seeing between Banff and Castle, the relative abundance is increasing,” he said.
That is contrasted with the Cascade and Red Deer River Valleys, where moose are decreasing, primarily connected to an increasing population of elk.
According to research conducted by biologist Tom Hurd, Whittington said more elk tends to mean less moose.
“What he found was there was a negative correlation between elk and moose. There’s a couple of reasons for that. The first is elk… are a generalist species and they eat a wide variety of food, like willow, which is a primary food for moose.
“So when we have high elk numbers they hit the willow hard, so that takes away some of the moose food. With lower elk densities west of Banff, the willow have recovered so there’s more forage for moose,” he said.