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Butler said researchers aren’t sure what impact, if any, the disease is having on moose, but the study should reveal that.
Another theory is that increases of sulfur and mercury in the environment could be to blame. High sulfur levels can cause polioencephalomalacia (PEM), which causes death. But Butler said no Minnesota moose have been found with PEM or high mercury levels.
Brainworm remains a better possibility. Deer carry it (and are unaffected by it), and slugs and terrestrial land snails spread it. And it’s deadly to moose. Some wonder if the relatively high densities of deer in northern Minnesota could be contributing to the problem.
Though hunting mortality wasn’t considered a factor in the population drop, officials in February suspended future hunts indefinitely.
Butler believes the study will solve the moose mystery, though it could be a year or two before answers are revealed. But even if the problem is identified, the question is whether officials will be able to do anything about it. Inoculating moose from disease isn’t practical.
Meanwhile, there’s still snow in the northern Minnesota woods, which could help moose. Winter ticks, which infest moose and can kill them, fall off now to lay eggs.
“If they drop off in snow, much fewer of them survive,’’ Butler said.
Doug Smith • email@example.com
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