You Never Know Who You Might Bump into on a Roadless Stretch of Idaho Forest Land

Moose in water. Photo by John McCarthy.

On a quiet hike in Clearwater National Forest, our Idaho Forests Campaign Manager John McCarthy stumbles upon some large animals whose kin have been known to charge a human or two.

Read John’s account of his careful photographic tiptoe through moose territory:

Two moose up Goose Creek
And a photographer without a paddle

By John McCarthy

Walking up Goose Creek trail near the Idaho-Montana border on a sunny July morning, the sound of crunching brush told me something very large was beating the bushes — less than 50 feet above me.

As I rounded the trail corner, a very large bull moose, with broad antlers perched improbably on his head, turned and gave me a glancing look of distain. He seemed to be saying, “whadaya looking at? You looking at me?”

A big moose above you on the trail is better than a bear, maybe, but not so great when the sometimes temperamental and unpredictable critters are jumpy. Stories of people treed by charging bull moose bent on demonstrating they are bigger than a Clydesdale and badder than Brahma got me looking for an escape route.

A couple of scraggly sub-alpine fir trees were the only break in the brush field. I sped up the trail, looking backward, and dropped my back to pull out the camera. My new zoom lens made me do it.

Mr. Moose continued to munch and crunch and crush brush. I kept a distance, banged off a few frames as he stood side-lit with fuzz apparent on antlers. I resisted temptation to edge closer and risk a charge.

When the moose stopped eating to stare me down, I bundled up and assured him, “yes sir, just leaving, moving right along.”

With blood pumping from a close encounter of the strange kind, I hiked toward Goose Lake. The lake sits at the base of the northern Bitterroot Crest separating Idaho and Montana, in the Hoodoo Roadless Area of the Clearwater National Forest. The state-line trail crosses back and forth between the two states with a series of alpine lakes in roadless lands on both sides of the divide.

I looked forward to one more night out under the stars, after two days and nights with a Student Conservation Association work crew The Wilderness Society co-sponsored with the Clearwater Forest. I planned to melt snow at a ridge camp taking in the view at sunset.

After about a half mile I topped the trail to the lake – finding another bull moose dipping his head fully underwater to vacuum algae near the lake shore. He appeared to be cousin or brother to the moose down the trail, about the same size and same antler rack.

OK, now I really got to play wildlife photographer. Because the moose stood in chest deep water about 30 feet from the shore, I’d have a good running start if he decided to chase me off. I worked close-ups, scene setters and artsy shots.

The moose dunked for algae, looked up as water dripped off and projected bored disinterest. We each played our roles and then I climbed the ridge. A distant look back showed moose at ease alone in the lake.

John McCarthy is the TWS Idaho Forests Campaign Manager.

More wilderness for moose

The area where I encountered the moose is part of the proposed Great Burn Wilderness in Idaho and Montana that has been promoted for permanent protection by conservationists and sportsman for decades.

A newly formed, regional cooperative group of individuals and organizations including The Wilderness Society, called the Clearwater Basin Collaborative, will be looking at opportunities for sustainable public land management. Wilderness recommendations from the collaborative, leading to designations, are part of the discussion.

The land includes parts of:

  • Idaho and Montana’s Hoodoo Roadless Area — 252,000 acres
  • Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest — 154,000 acres
  • Montana’s Lolo National Forest — 98,000 acres
  • Highlands that include 33 high mountain lakes and elevations from 3,200 to 7,930 feet
  • Idaho’s Kelly Creek, a Blue Ribbon westslope cutthroat trout fishery