Moose are now occasionally spotted in the Hudson Valley as their population expands west and south from the obscure corners of northern New England that the massive quadruped was forced into by the region’s development.
The moose’s historical range stretches down from Canada through New York and into Pennsylvania, but deforestation almost completely extirpated the moose from the Northeast by the late 1800s. Moose returned to the Adirondacks and Massachusetts in the 1980s and spread, so now moose are permanent residents in the Taconic region bordering Massachusetts and the Hudson Valley.
I would like to say I was able to locate a Hudson Valley moose for this article, but the probability of this happening before deadline was basically nil. Moose are still rare sights in the Hudson Valley. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) received 12 reports of moose in the four Hudson Valley counties east of the Hudson River from 2015-2017, but the count only includes sightings that were officially reported.
Seven of these sightings were in the Taconic Mountains, four were in Westchester County, and one was in central Columbia County, according to the DEC maps.
Moose re-entered northern New York State in the 80s, most likely by crossing Lake Champlain from Vermont or the St. Lawrence River from Ontario while the bodies of water were frozen in the winter months, said DEC Big Game Biologist Jeremy Hurst.
In recent years, there have been moose on the Rensselaer Plateau west of Albany, and the beasts sometimes wander into more populated areas of the Capital District, Hurst said.
“In some instances, a young male moose will disperse from its birth range,” he said. “It may end up walking into areas where it’s less common for moose to be, down off the (Rensselaer) Plateau, more into farm country, and they’ll obviously interact with more people and be seen more readily.”
These moose are often wandering because of brain worm, a disease contracted from deer that mentally impairs the moose before killing it, Hurst said.
Farther south, there are established breeding pairs of moose west of the Housatonic River in Massachusetts, an area that includes the Taconic Mountains, a range peaking on the border between Massachusetts and the eastern side of Columbia and Dutchess counties in the Hudson Valley, according to Chief of Information and Education for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Marion Larson.
Massachusetts did not have a count on the number of moose in this area, Larson said, but there were about 4,500 moose in the state, a population that entered central Massachusetts in the 1980s from New Hampshire and spread east and west.
Chris Ricard, the manager of the Taconic State Park in New York, said there have been moose sightings in the park “almost every other year” — usually of young male moose.
The moose rarely descend into the lowlands east of the park, he added.
New York State Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation Regional Biologist Jesse Jaycox said he personally knew of a couple instances of moose in the New York Taconics: a young bull moose that was photographed in Copake, Columbia County, in October of 2015, and moose droppings found around the Columbia County-Dutchess County line in 2013.
Though there are established breeding pairs of moose on the Massachusetts side of the Taconics, the question still remains whether the moose seen on the New York side reside here or are just popping over the border to have a look around.
Jeremy Hurst said New York hadn’t officially assigned a moose population to the area, but that the New York Taconics were contiguous with the moose’s range in Massachusetts and southern Vermont.
None of the New York environmental officials I talked to could say for sure whether there were breeding pairs on the Hudson Valley side of the border, but there has not been a concerted effort by the state to study moose in this region, as there has been in the Adirondacks.
However, established breeding pairs have been identified right up against its border, and moose do not observe state lines. The Taconic State Park is also 7,000 acres and almost completely undeveloped, so finding a breeding pair of the human-avoidant creatures would be extremely difficult.
Though moose are only spreading in the Northeast, they will most likely not find their way into the lower Hudson Valley where they once roamed before deforestation, Hurst said, “given current climate conditions and future predicted climate conditions.”
The current southern edge of the moose’s range is almost too hot for the creatures, and “if the climate warms and our winters get more mild, it will become more challenging for moose,” he said.
Other factors limiting the moose’s southward expansion include higher population density and an increased threat of brain worm, Hurst said, which would be easier for moose to contract in the deer-ubiquitous New York suburbs.
I will be on the lookout for Hudson Valley moose next time I’m in the Taconics, and you should be too. If you see one, you can report it to the DEC here. And I will forever envy you.