GRAND FORKS — There's often backlash when an agency puts down a perfectly healthy animal. That's why University of North Dakota police spent 13 hours trying to get a moose on campus back into the wild earlier this week.
But they are now under fire from the state's wildlife leader for how they handled the incident. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department's wildlife chief Jeb Williams says the moose should have been killed.
On Tuesday, Sept. 3, when the Fighting Hawks were getting ready for their Saturday game against North Dakota State, a moose came strolling into practice at Memorial Stadium.
"We were contacting anybody we could get our hands on, it's a unique situation," said Lt. Danny Weigel of the UND Police Department. "You've got thousands of people walking around at any given time, Columbia and University Avenue are near Memorial Stadium and are heavily traveled by vehicles,"
After locking the gates, one of those calls went to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Wardens came out and gave school officials two options. UND could either let it loose, or they could kill it. It's against school policy to kill a healthy animal and game wardens refused to kill the moose as well, leaving after about an hour.
"We were informed they would not shoot the moose because they didn't want to deal with any of the public attention, or negative public attention that could come with the situation," Lt. Weigel said.
More than 12 hours after entering Memorial Stadium, the moose was tranquilized and released back into the wild a few miles from city limits. Hours later, Williams sent out a lengthy email across the state, concerned about how UND handled the situation.
In the email, Williams states his concerns about the tranquilizer and antibiotic that was used to subdue the moose. He's afraid with the moose hunting season opening Friday, Sept. 6 that if someone bags the moose or hits it with their car and then eats it they may get sick.
"If the animal is put down lethally right away, then at least that moose meat can be donated to the local food pantry and food bank program to be able to get that good quality meat on somebody's plate," Williams said.
According to the email, the drugs are not FDA approved for human consumption, and research recommends waiting for as long as 28 days before the meat should be consumed. Moose hunting just opened for bow users on Sept. 6, only three days after the moose was tranquilized.
Despite criticism, police stand by their decision, saying they consulted with a number of experts before releasing the moose.
"We also spoke with other wildlife professionals and some other people with experience of these type of situations and we felt given the information provided it would be safe to release the moose back to the wild," Lt. Weigel said.
UND police and Game and Fish now plan to sit down together in a few weeks to make sure both agencies are on the same page when something like this happens again.