FORT KENT, Maine — An incident involving a New Hampshire couple’s moose encounter while snowmobiling in Jackman last week is under investigation by the Maine Warden Service and charges could be pending.
“We have a game warden investigating,” Cpl. John MacDonald said Wednesday morning. “Once we determine the facts and what those facts are, then it will be determined if the actions were illegal or unreasonable.”
Last Friday, Janis and Bob Powell posted a two-and-a-half-minute video recording the incident and clearly showing them following a running bull moose for 18 seconds before the moose turned and confronted the two, who were riding on separate snowmobiles.
The YouTube video, which had racked up just over 119,000 views as of Wednesday morning, shows the moose charging and cuffing a running Bob Powell and seconds later Janis Powell shooting a small-caliber handgun into the air to frighten the moose off.
After receiving what Janis Powell said were harassing messages and comments, she reposted the video on Saturday without the original opening 18 seconds.
But then the criticism got more heated.
“People have started to comment that we’re trying to hide things on purpose,” Janis Powell said on Sunday. “That’s not true; we have nothing to hide. I edited this video earlier because it was clear that a lot of people have no idea at all what they are watching, were completely misinterpreting it, and were very rude to us as a result.”
So she then put the original, full-length video back up on YouTube Saturday evening.
Then on Wednesday, Powell sent the following statement via email to the BDN: “Our video has drawn a lot of attention and healthy conversations.”
She also noted that she and her husband reported the incident immediately to the wardens.
“We previously contacted the warden service to let them know that we had encountered a moose on the trail,” she said in the email. “And are currently cooperating with them fully.”
MacDonald, who on Wednesday said he has not seen the full-length clip, did say the wardens investigating the incident have.
“We will be talking with [the Powells] and we need to determine some basic things, like where exactly it did occur,” he said, adding that in the past similar videos have been shot in other states and falsely identified as Maine-based.
“We don’t at all feel that is the case here,” MacDonald said.
Whether any charges are filed once the investigation is complete will be up to the Somerset County District Attorney, according to MacDonald. He said the investigation could take two weeks to finish.
If charged and convicted, MacDonald said, the Powells could be facing a fine, the amount of which would be determined by the district attorney and the courts.
Moose-vehicle encounters are common in Maine, MacDonald said. Less common, however, are incidents of moose attacking people and rarer still are for such encounters to be captured on video, he said.
“We are seeing what everyone else can see on that video,” MacDonald said. “We need to take a closer look at it and see if [the Powells] did anything illegal or unreasonable.”
When confronted by vehicles — be it a snowmobile, ATV, car or truck, the moose simply want to go on about their business, according to Mark Latti, spokesman for Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, who on Wednesday said he had seen the video in its entirety.
“It’s been a long, hard winter for a lot of wildlife, including the moose,” Latti said. “People need to slow down and let them disperse naturally.”
Given time — sometimes extended time — moose will wander off the trails or roadways on their own, he said.
“Seeing a moose on a snowmobile trail is not all that unusual,” Latti said. “People need to stop and let the moose go on its way. It may take a few minutes but that is a better alternative than stressing the moose out by getting too close.”
Powell maintains she and her husband did not intend to stress the moose.
“We share our passion for the outdoors and wildlife with many of you who enjoy the Maine woods and trails,” Janis Powell said in her email. “We have nothing but the utmost respect for wildlife, and would never do anything to harm these wonderful creatures.”
In an earlier interview, Janis Powell said that the moose appeared to be “tick infested” and that she and her husband found a dozen blood-engorged ticks on the trail where the moose had just been.
“Winter ticks this time of year are extremely common on the moose,” Latti said. “And that is one of those things that can really weaken a moose.”
Allowing the animal to move away at its own pace will prevent it from using energy it needs to simply survive this time of year, given the low quality of available winter browse, Latti said.
“Patience is the important part here,” he said. “Give the moose the right of way and let them do what they are going to do.”
That is something Janis Powell said they are taking away from the experience.
“We have learned a lesson from this encounter — that we will need to keep even further away from wildlife in the future, and hope that others can learn from our experience as well,” she said in the email. “We look forward to putting this matter behind us.”