A depressing report from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was released recently involving the success of Northeastern Minnesota’s moose population.
Aerial surveys in the Northeast corner of the state indicated a slight increase in estimated moose population from 2015 to 2016, which is good news. Long-term, however, the news is not quite as exciting.
Minnesota’s moose population has taken a very drastic hit in the past ten years, from a record high of 8,840 animals in 2016, to its record low at just 2,760 in 2013, to its most recent number of 4,020.
According to Glenn DelGiudice, the moose project leader for the DNR, “moose are not recovering in northeastern Minnesota.” While the population decline since 2012 has not been nearly as steep when compared to the years between the years of 2006 and 2012, but DelGiudice believes that the long-term moose population will continue to decline.
There are many factors that help to explain the decline in the moose population in the past decade. According to the DNR, not enough time has passed to come up with a definitive answer as to why Minnesota’s moose are in such trouble. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few theories out there. Of 47 radio-collared moose fatalities from February 2013 – January 2016, 15 animals were found to have died from a variety of parasites including brainworm, winter ticks, and liver flukes. Does global climate change have anything to do with the influx of parasites affecting moose? Maybe…warmer overall temperatures may give rise to bugs that are able to live longer and breed more readily.
(16 other moose were killed by wolves, which brings up another controversial issue in Minnesota, but that’s a topic for another post.)
Clearly, parasites are causing a lot of death among Minnesota’s moose, but for now, there are few answers as to why the animals in Minnesota are dying at such a high rate compared to the animals in other areas, including just over the border in Canada.
So, what does this mean for Minnesota’s moose population? The perpetual optimist in me notices the increase from last year (which, honestly, isn’t enough to be considered a significant increase at all) and dreams of an explosion in the moose population through the next five years. I dream of driving around Beltrami County, and even further south and west, and seeing a big bull moose lumbering through the pines in a warm fall day or a cow with its healthy calf in early June.
On the other hand, this dream of mine may be a far-fetched idea with the current downward trend that the moose population is experiencing. Moose hunting in the state at one point was very popular, with once-in-a-lifetime moose tags being extremely coveted by hunters in the state. As the herd continued to dwindle, the annual hunt was understandably stopped after the 2012 hunting season. Will moose hunting in Minnesota ever be able to be reestablished in the state? If numbers continue to decline, will animals from other states or even Canada be introduced into their historic Minnesota range? Even with smart management of the resource, and a little (lot) of luck, I have a feeling that moose will continue to struggle in the Northeast.
My only hope is that scientists and wildlife managers are able save Minnesota’s moose herd before it is too late.
What do you think is causing Minnesota’s moose decline? Is it just a natural cycle that the animals will recover from naturally, or the beginning of the end for moose in the state?
Outdoor News. Feb. 19, 2016