The Maine Warden Service is investigating the conduct of a couple from New Hampshire who posted a YouTube video of themselves following a moose on snowmobiles, and wardens say they could be charged with a misdemeanor for harassing wildlife.

The couple maintain they were not chasing the moose.

The moose charged at Janis and Bob Powell of Belmont, N.H., while they were riding snowmobiles outside Jackman on Friday. Neither the Powells nor the moose was hurt in the incident.

Cpl. John MacDonald of the warden service said the incident is being investigated for any harassment of wildlife. Under state law, intentionally disturbing or trying to disturb a wild animal carries a fine of as much as $500.

“It’s a learning opportunity,” MacDonald said. “People need to understand that they need to maintain a safe distance and to give the wildlife the right of way.”

Bob Powell told the Portland Press Herald on Tuesday that he and his wife were riding their snowmobiles near their camp when they saw a moose ahead of them on the trail. He said they inadvertently rode closer to the moose than they anticipated, but were not chasing it, as commenters on the Internet have speculated.

The video, which they first posted on YouTube on Friday, was picked up by several media organizations, including ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America.” It shows that the Powells’ snowmobiles were some distance behind the moose before making up significant ground.

“The moose stopped abruptly,” Powell said. “We’re not thrill-seeking young kids. We’re experienced snowmobilers and we’ve seen dozens of moose. I’ve never in my whole life chased one. We’re very respectful of the wildlife.”

Powell said the moose was “trotting,” not running, and the camera angle made it appear that they were much closer to the moose than they were.

“It looks like we were right on top of the moose, but we were maybe 50 feet from the moose,” he said.

He said he and his wife typically stay at least 100 feet from moose they encounter on the trails where they have been riding since the late 1990s, when they bought their camp in Jackman. A moose can weigh as much as 1,500 pounds.

Powell said this moose was mangy and tick-infested and acting strangely, not like most moose they encounter, which usually turn off into the brush at some point. It stopped and stood its ground, even while the Powells tried to “shoo” it off the trail.

The moose charged at Bob Powell, then Janis Powell fired a gun into the air to scare it away. The moose stood still for a few moments, then ran into the woods.

Bob Powell said he was nearly seriously injured by the moose. “Its hoof grazed my spine,” he said. “We were rattled for a while after that.”

The couple typically shoot video of their snowmobile runs, he said. After Friday’s video was posted and picked up by the media, the criticism began. “It’s like a mob mentality,” Powell said.

Commenters on websites where the video was posted, including the Press Herald’s website, called the Powells “idiots” and other names, accusing them of chasing the moose.

Powell said the close call will make them more cautious about moose in the future.

According to the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Northeast has never had a human fatality from a moose attack, although 33 people have died in Maine in collisions between vehicles and moose since 1995.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said he has no idea what the couple might have intended to do, but after watching the video, he said it appeared that they erred by riding too close to the moose.

“They got very close to a big, wild animal, and the big, wild animal didn’t like it,” Trahan said. “These wild animals are unpredictable. I’m just glad nobody got hurt.”

Jackman’s town website includes information on encountering moose: “Moose are not normally aggressive, however, they can be very aggressive when hungry, tired or harassed by people.”

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

jlawlor@pressherald.com

Twitter: @joelawlorph