State moose population dives by a third in annual count

Alarmed, the DNR suspends hunts indefinitely as researchers scramble to learn what is decimating the animals.

The number of moose in Minnesota plummeted by one third in the last year, a startling decline that prompted state wildlife officials to suspend indefinitely the annual hunt of the emblematic animal.

The sudden acceleration -- double the rate of recent years -- adds new urgency to an unprecedented research effort to understand, before it's too late, why moose are dying in such numbers.

"It reaffirms the conservation community's need to better understand why this species of the north is disappearing from our state," said Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Results of the annual aerial survey, conducted in January and released Wednesday, indicated that 2,760 moose are left in Minnesota, down from 4,230 in 2012. In 2006, the population in the northeastern corner of the state peaked at 8,840, but by then moose had already largely disappeared from the northwest corner of Minnesota, where they had long been part of the landscape.

State wildlife officials say that, at the current rate of decline, moose could be gone from Minnesota in a matter of years.

"That's pretty grim," said Rolf Peterson, a wildlife researcher from Michigan Technical University who has studied moose on Isle Royale for decades and who advised the DNR.

Landwehr stressed Wednesday that, while the moose's decline remains a puzzle, the state's limited hunts are not to blame. Biologists say that even with the annual shooting harvest of about 50 bulls a year, the state still has plenty of males to ensure a healthy population. But, Landwehr said, suspending the hunt is "the only tool we have to control the mortality of moose."

Other moose researchers say that they often hear from members of the public who ask why a hunt is allowed. "If 50 moose die, then that's 50 less that are out there," said Ron Moen, moose researcher at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

The DNR has also begun discussions with three bands of Chippewa about suspending their hunts as well, but Landwehr said it isn't clear what decision they will make. Their hunts, which last year took 36 animals, are of great cultural importance to the tribes, Landwehr said.

Tracking moose

Just weeks ago, the DNR launched the largest and most high-tech moose research effort ever, one that is attracting attention from wildlife researchers around the globe.

Using planes and helicopters to find moose that are visible against the snow, they are fitting 100 of the animals with GPS collars to track their movements and collect a variety of data on each animal and its environment. When a moose stops moving, the collar will alert researchers at a central location, notifying them of its death. Within 24 hours, before it decays or is eaten by scavengers, a team of biologists will use ATVs and snowmobiles to drag the up to 1,000-pound carcass out of the woods and send it to a veterinary laboratory at the University of Minnesota for a necropsy.

In spring, the researchers will use the collars to find cows when they give birth, and then repeat the exercise to collar about 50 new calves. That will allow them to determine with great accuracy why the calves die and which predators -- wolves, bears or coyotes -- prey on them most frequently.

"It's the biggest moose research program ever in terms of its comprehensive nature," Peterson said.

The science is designed to ferret out the many interconnected factors that could be behind their decline -- everything from climate change to predators to infestations of winter ticks, researchers said. Muddying the picture is the fact that moose populations are healthier in other places, particularly on Isle Royale, which is just off the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Ticks and brain worm

In Minnesota, moose face several problems that they don't always encounter in other regions. For example, they are exposed to brain worm, a parasite carried by deer, which have expanded into moose territory. Unlike deer, moose can be devastated by brain worm, and many of the dead moose studied in Minnesota had tracks from the parasite in their brains. No deer are on Isle Royale, and far fewer of them are in such northeastern states as New Hampshire and Maine, researchers said.

But that is likely too simple an answer because many moose survive brain worm, said Glenn DelGiudice, a DNR biologist. "It can be more fatal to moose, but it's not always what kills them," he said.

Other studies have connected winter moose deaths to higher average temperatures. The huge animals are exquisitely sensitive to heat, and when it's hot in the summer, they tend to lie in cool damp places and pant instead of eating. Then they don't put on enough fat to carry them through the winter.

Moen said he expects his research on collared moose to reveal a lot about their choice of habitat, which could help with conservation efforts.

And then there are winter ticks. The insects attach themselves in late fall, then feast on the moose throughout the winter. Large infestations, which can reach as many as 50,000 bugs on a single animal, can kill a moose. Research on Isle Royale linked ticks to a 25 percent crash in moose numbers in the 1980s; they spent so much time scratching they didn't eat enough.

It could be six or seven years, however, before enough moose die to reveal clear patterns, researchers said.

"And it's not necessarily going to save the moose," Peterson said.

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394

  • related content

  • Eden Prairie woman is on a mission to save the moose

    Tuesday February 5, 2013

    An Eden Prairie woman is raising money to help find out why Minnesota's moose population is declining.

  • Minnesota's moose count

    Wednesday February 6, 2013

    4,230

  • A member of a survey team from the Department of Natural Resources fitted a moose with a tracking collar. As the state‚Äôs moose population plummets, the DNR launched the largest and most high-tech moose research effort, drawing attention around the globe. .

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tennessee 7:25 PM
Jacksonville
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 7:00 PM
Chicago
New Orleans 7:30 PM
Houston
Milwaukee 9:00 PM
Sacramento
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
Golden State
Florida 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Colorado 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Toronto 6:00 PM
Carolina
Washington 6:00 PM
Columbus
Anaheim 6:30 PM
Montreal
St. Louis 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Edmonton 9:30 PM
San Jose
St Thomas (TX) 61 FINAL
Rice 72
Stony Brook 6:00 PM
Canisius
Temple 6:00 PM
Delaware
FIU 6:00 PM
Long Island
Lehigh 6:00 PM
Quinnipiac
South Alabama 6:00 PM
Richmond
Seton Hall 6:00 PM
South Florida
Ga Southern 6:00 PM
Stetson
Yale 6:00 PM
Vermont
Cleveland State 6:00 PM
Virginia
Wright State 6:00 PM
Western Carolina
Nicholls 6:30 PM
Louisiana Tech
Morgan State 6:30 PM
Rider
Idaho State 6:30 PM
South Dakota St
Oakland City 7:00 PM
Austin Peay
Eureka 7:00 PM
Bradley
Appalachian St 7:00 PM
Charlotte
Connecticut 7:00 PM
Duke
Southern Miss 7:00 PM
Jackson State
Coastal Carolina 7:00 PM
Ole Miss
Montana State 7:30 PM
South Dakota
LSU 8:00 PM
UAB
Ohio 8:05 PM
Evansville
CS-Dominguez 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Walla Walla 9:00 PM
Idaho
DePaul 9:00 PM
Oregon State
Nevada 9:00 PM
Pacific
Portland State 9:00 PM
San Francisco
CS-Bakersfield 9:05 PM
Utah State
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Niagara 76 FINAL
Cleveland State 58
High Point 59 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 81
Towson 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 74
Presbyterian 50 FINAL
Charlotte 66
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Bradley 59
Northwestern Coll 58 FINAL
Drake 102
Vanderbilt 67 FINAL
Marquette 80
Temple 4:00 PM
Howard
Southern Miss 4:00 PM
Ole Miss
UMBC 4:00 PM
Rider
Miami-Florida 5:00 PM
UCLA
St Mary-KS 5:00 PM
South Dakota
William & Mary 5:00 PM
Wofford
Troy 5:30 PM
Evansville
Loyola Marymount 6:00 PM
USC
St Francis-PA 6:00 PM
Duquesne
Indiana-Southeast 6:00 PM
IUPUI
Delaware State 6:00 PM
Detroit
Tenn Temple 6:00 PM
Gardner-Webb
West Virginia St 6:00 PM
Radford
Fairfield 6:00 PM
Seton Hall
Dartmouth 6:00 PM
New Hampshire
Ball State 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Jacksonville 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
Trine 6:00 PM
Western Mich
Tenn Tech 6:30 PM
Lipscomb
Samford 7:00 PM
Tulane
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American
Ark-Little Rock 7:00 PM
South Dakota St
CS-Northridge 7:30 PM
Northern Ariz
Santa Clara 8:00 PM
Oregon
(19) Oklahoma St 8:00 PM
Weber State
Washington 8:00 PM
San Diego State
Cal Poly 8:00 PM
New Mexico
(10) Louisville 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close