What's killing Minnesota's moose?

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 9, 2010 - 7:46 AM
hide

A young bull moose grazed in a swamp off the Gunflint Trail in northeastern Minnesota.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The bad news continues for Minnesota's moose.

The population of the iconic animal in northeastern Minnesota has declined again, based on the latest aerial survey this winter by the Department of Natural Resources.

Wildlife researchers estimate that there are 5,500 moose in that region of the state. With a 23 percent margin of error, the estimate is not statistically different from last year's estimate of 7,600, but it supports other evidence that the moose population is declining.

"We don't believe the population dropped 2,000 in the past year, but it's indicative that the population is declining and parallels everything else we've been seeing," said Mark Lenarz, DNR wildlife researcher. "Our concern continues."

Reasons for the decline are uncertain, but researchers continue to believe a warming climate is responsible. Minnesota, already at the southern fringe of the moose range, apparently is becoming inhospitable for the large animals. Moose are extremely heat-sensitive, and temperature readings in Ely show over the past 48 years, average summer and winter temperatures have increased substantially.

Moose aren't likely to disappear anytime soon, but as their range shifts north, Minnesota's population could continue to stumble.

"People come up here to catch fish and see wildlife," said Bob Baker, owner of Gunflint Pines Resort and Campground on the Gunflint Trail, northwest of Grand Marais, Minn. "The moose is the one animal people want to see when they're here, and its decline could impact tourism."

Already in the northwest part of the state the number of moose has fallen from around 4,000 in the mid-1980s to around 100 today.

"There's more and more evidence suggesting it's related to climate," Lenarz said. Higher temperatures can stress moose, making them susceptible to diseases and parasites.

Statistics agree

Lenarz said this is the first year the survey has agreed with other indices showing the decline. The proportion of cows accompanied by calves continued a 13-year decline, dropping to a record low of 28 calves per 100 cows.

The bull-to-cow ratio also continued to decline, with an estimated 83 bulls per 100 cows.

Mortality from hunting or wolves is not responsible for the population decline, Lenarz said.

"Based on the research we did between 2002 and 2008, wolves simply weren't a factor," he said.

Of the 150 radio-collared moose in the study, 103 died. Just six were clearly the result of wolf kills, Lenarz said. Most died of unknown causes or from health problems thought to be related to disease or parasites. Nine were killed on highways and two by trains.

That study also showed non-hunting mortality was substantially higher than in moose populations outside of Minnesota, again hinting at a broader problem.

Habitat changes might be one reason why fewer moose are seen along the Gunflint Trail, said Baker, who served on the state's Moose Advisory Committee, organized by the DNR.

"The country has changed so much up here in the last 10 to 15 years," Baker said. "I'm trying to figure out for myself, 'Why aren't moose here like they used to be?' Is it the fires we've had? Habitat changes? Lack of food?"

Meanwhile, very limited hunting seasons probably will continue, at least for now, Lenarz said.

The moose advisory group last year recommended several criteria for closing either some moose hunting permit areas or the entire moose season, "and none of those have been met," Lenarz said.

It's unknown what the future holds for Minnesota's moose, Lenarz said.

"It's really difficult to say," he said.

Making projections

"If it is related to climate change, looking at patterns of climate over past 40 and 50 years, there's a lot of fluctuations. The general trend is warming, but you have cool spells and warming spells. So it's really difficult to project how long the moose population will continue to survive."

A new study is being launched involving placing radio collars and GPS devices on some northeastern Minnesota moose to determine how they respond to higher temperatures.

"Hopefully, we'll learn what sorts of habitat they are going into and what is most important for them to keep cool," Lenarz said.

Staff writer Dennis Anderson contributed to this report. Doug Smith • 612-673-7667

  • related content

  • On the moose trail

    Saturday February 23, 2008

    On the ground with researchers tagging and sampling Minnesota's moose population to find out why so many of the animals are dying.

  • $78.5M to stop carp invasion

    Saturday February 20, 2010

    State and federal officials vowed to expand an aggressive campaign to prevent Asian carp from establishing populations in the Great Lakes.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Portland 0 Postponed
Brooklyn 0
Sacramento 0 Postponed
New York 0
Philadelphia 33 2nd Qtr 6:32
New Orleans 36
Minnesota 25 2nd Qtr 5:51
Oklahoma City 40
Orlando 39 2nd Qtr 6:04
Memphis 49
Boston 8:00 PM
Utah
Denver 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Army 56 2nd Half 3:46
American Univ 61
Wright State 56 2nd Half 3:52
Detroit 44
Syracuse 72 2nd Half 2:42
North Carolina 78
Cleveland State 56 2nd Half 0:32
Oakland 57
Delaware State 50 2nd Half 2:18
NC Central 51
High Point 57 2nd Half 2:30
Presbyterian 51
Howard 25 2nd Half
Bethune-Cookman 27
Coppin State 39 2nd Half
NC A&T 39
Nicholls 35 2nd Half 13:20
Northwestern St 52
Hampton 31 2nd Half 17:01
SC State 37
Gardner-Webb 30 1st Half 0:30
Campbell 37
MD-Eastern Shore 18 1st Half 7:55
Florida A&M 14
Stephen F Austin 31 1st Half 2:08
Lamar 21
Central Arkansas 26 1st Half 4:11
New Orleans 43
Norfolk State 31 2nd Half
Savannah State 21
TX A&M-CC 31 2nd Half
SE Louisiana 32
Sam Houston St 38 1st Half 4:20
Abilene Christian 20
McNeese State 46 2nd Half
Incarnate Word 34
Milwaukee 16 2nd Half
Valparaiso 39
Alcorn State 7:30 PM
Alabama A&M
Southern U 7:30 PM
Alabama State
Prairie View 8:00 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
Texas 8:00 PM
Iowa State
Texas Southern 8:00 PM
Miss Valley St
Long Island 85 FINAL
Bryant 88
Central Conn St 51 FINAL
St Francis-NY 49
Fairleigh Dickinson 0 Postponed
Sacred Heart 0
St Francis-PA 87 FINAL
Wagner 74
Delaware State 59 FINAL
NC Central 66
Howard 53 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 61
Coppin State 49 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 88 FINAL
SC State 53
Norfolk State 54 FINAL
Savannah State 56
MD-Eastern Shore 54 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Angelo State 55 FINAL
Abilene Christian 70
Samford 32 FINAL
(25) Chattanooga 49
Prairie View 83 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 66
Alcorn State 58 FINAL
Alabama A&M 55
Southern U 53 FINAL
Alabama State 49
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 52
Robert Morris 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 44
East Tenn St 72 FINAL
Mercer 70
Morehead St 64 FINAL
Tenn Tech 54
Illinois 57 FINAL
Michigan 70
(12) Texas A&M 51 2nd Half 4:52
(1) South Carolina 71
Wofford 56 2nd Half 0:43
Furman 56
Quinnipiac 0 Postponed
Manhattan 0
Saint Peters 0 Postponed
Rider 0
(18) Miss State 8:00 PM
Auburn
(15) Nebraska 8:00 PM
(20) Iowa
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close