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Disturbing Moose Trophy Hunt Called 'Immoral' By Horrified Bystanders

<p>Flickr/Denali National Park</p>

Last weekend, a bow hunter in Colorado's Roosevelt National Forest shot and killed a moose. While the animal was just one of many that are recreationally hunted in the state every year, the incident gained media attention from local outlets because of the protests of a group of shocked witnesses.

Trophy hunting moose is nothing new. But there are several reasons why moose in particular make a bad species to hunt.

The moose population in Colorado has been recovering in recent years, thanks to intensive conservation and reintroduction programs by wildlife officials. Recent surveys found an estimated 2,300 in the state, compared to much lower numbers in other states. But in general, moose are an imperiled species facing steep declines in the country - and scientists can't seem to figure out the reason for this.

A piece in The New York Times last October chronicled this worrying drop, reporting on several theories: stress from heat as a result of climate change and warmer winters; brain worms; liver flukes; and unregulated hunting.

Colorado abides by mixed land use, meaning that many of its parks are used both for recreational and consumptive activities - like trophy hunting.

While hunting small numbers of moose in the state may not seem to make an immediate difference, the impact may be more than hunters realize. A phenomenon called "selective harvesting" is often observed by conservationists who study trophy hunting. Trophy hunters value the biggest, strongest, large-horned animals which leaves a resulting population skewed toward smaller males and females. A domino effect ensues wherein females have fewer mating partners, and a demographic change in the population is seen. In one 2006 paper in the journal Conservation Biology that explains this phenomenon in moose populations, researchers wrote that the removal of even a few targeted individuals can have effects on the demographics of a population as a whole.

Conversely, moose-watching has blossomed into a popular and fruitful industry. In New Hampshire, moose tourism rakes in $115 million every year - and the moose probably like it a lot better than the sport hunting industry.