Minnesota Conservation Volunteer

The Disappearing Majestic MooseThe Minnesota Conservation Volunteer is the magazine of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  A subscription to the magazine is free to Minnesota residents, and is truly a wonderful publication filled with the flora and fauna of the Minnesota landscape.  However, I read the majority of the articles online because of the website’s fantastic online archive.

I chose the hunting story “Wilderness Moose Hunt” by Chris Niskanen from the magazine’s September-October 2006 issue for our Minnesota Conservation Volunteer article comment assignment because I am a hunter and an outdoorsman.  But the struggle of the Minnesota moose herd is a sign of our changing environment as well, and easily relates to the topics we have been discussing in People and the Environment.

I first came upon this article a few months ago while researching information for a post I made concerning the Minnesota bear and moose hunting license lotteries and seasons.  That post I made on April 6 has become the most frequently searched and viewed post on this website.  Echoing this statistic found in Niskanen’s article:

Moose hunting is enormously popular in Minnesota. In 2005 the DNR received applications from 3,060 parties of two to four hunters for 284 moose tags in 30 zones.

Niskanen explains the romanticism with a hunting story that takes place in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW):

Minnesota is among only a dozen states where moose are hunted and among fewer where the experience can demand wilderness canoeing and backcountry woods skills—the makings of an exquisitely primitive hunt. Only Minnesota residents can apply for and win the once-in-a-lifetime tag….

…Moose are North America’s largest deer species. Minnesota specimens, known as the Canada subspecies, can weigh up to 1,300 pounds. For their size alone, they capture the imaginations of hunters, present and past.

The range of the moose (Alces alces) still includes the habitat of the North Woods of Minnesota, although in recent years several factors have contributed to a steady, excessively high, non-hunting mortality rate.  This has led to the closure of the moose hunt in Minnesota’s Northwest region where numbers have fallen below a safe huntable surplus, and has recently become a bull moose-only-hunt in the state’s Northeast Arrowhead region.  The following excerpt from my April 6 post as well as the links to the articles I referenced explains the battle the moose is fighting:

Researchers are feverishly working to find the reasons why the population has seen such a drastic decline.  Some theories suggest that warming climates leading to heat stress, encroaching exploding deer populations, and parasites like liver fluke, brainworm, and winter ticks as well as predators and habitat loss are the contributors to the decline in numbers, but so far a hard and fast reason has eluded researchers.  It may be a combination of these reasons, so researchers are intensely studying the herd looking for clues that will suggest the cause and possibly ways to help the moose fight what is threatening the herd.  Declining moose numbers are not unique to Minnesota.  When I searched the web for information on some of these threats, I found numerous sites, studies and articles that have documented some of the research that has been done all over moose’s North American range.  Below you will find links to some of the best of those findings.

In reading the above selected articles, you’ll find that heat stress is not the only reason why the moose is in decline, but a warmer climate is definitely affecting the range where these majestic animals can exist.  Factoring in the ever encroaching human species as a contributor to habitat loss and introduction of disease via an exploding white-tail deer population gives a bleak outlook to the future of the moose herd in Minnesota.

I remember when moose crossing signs stood along the roadside of Highway 2 west of Bemidji.  Those signs are no longer there as the moose population in Northwest Minnesota has fallen to an estimated 84 as of 2007.  However, I saw a sign to give me hope while returning from a recent fishing trip to Upper Red Lake.  As I drove home through the bogs surrounding the lake, deep in thought remembering my day of fishing, something large came hurdling out of the bush on the right side of the road.  I didn’t immediately recognize the potential obstacle, but I knew that what I was seeing out of the corner of my eye was large enough to impede my safe passage down the highway.  I instinctively swerved into the empty oncoming lane in order to give this unexpected traffic a wide berth, and as I crossed its intended path it pulled up to a stop.  At the moment of realization that the danger was gone, I was amazed to set my eyes on the source of my sudden deviation in course, a cow moose with her newly born calf in tow.

I have seen moose in the wild before on hunting and fishing trips to western states and Canada as well as a particularly close encounter of my own in the Boundary Waters some years ago with a cow moose and her two calves.  However, in the light of the current situation of the species here in the region I call home, this sighting was certainly a wonderful surprise.  My thoughts along the road home of the day of fishing quickly changed to guesses at where this family was coming from and where they were headed at the moment of our chance meeting.

I’m hoping a cool spring and summer will help that mother nurture her calf to a fortuitous start in life.  I hope to one day have an amazing story to write about my own Minnesota moose hunt, but I hope the massive bull of my dreams will not be a ghost story of a species lost.

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