Advocating for the Moose

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) recently published the results of the 2018 Aerial Moose Survey.  Results of the survey state:

After adjusting for sampling and sightability, we estimated the population in northeastern Minnesota at 3,030 [or somewhere in the range of] 2,320–4,140 [based on a] 90% confidence interval [given several] statistical uncertaint[ies] inherent in aerial wildlife surveys … Past aerial survey and research results have indicated that the long-term trend of the population in northeastern Minnesota has been declining since 2006.  The current population estimate is 65% less than the estimate in 2006 and the declining linear trend during the past decade remains statistically significant.  However, the leveling since 2012 persists, and … the trend from 2012 to 2018 is not declining.  While this recent short-term trend (7-year) is noteworthy, it applies only to the existing survey estimates, and does not forecast the future trajectory of the population.

While it appears the population has stabilized in the short-term, the long-term decline of the moose in Minnesota continues to make this a race against time.

Minnesota’s moose population has been drastically declining over the past three decades.  While population estimates remained relatively stable in the northeastern range during the mid-1980s to mid-2000s, the population in the northwestern range virtually disappeared.  Now it is the remaining population in the northeastern range that is under assault.  The MN DNR implemented a massive research project under the Minnesota Moose Research and Management Plan in December 2011 in hopes of learning what is causing the decline and how to better manage the moose and its habitat in relationship to environmental and social concerns. The moose was finally listed as an animal of special concern in Minnesota since another dramatic drop in the population from 2012 to 2013.  This also caused the MN DNR to discontinue offering a moose hunting season in association with managing the herd until population estimates have recovered – even though the hunt was shown to only contribute a 2% reduction in the population as a restricted once-in-a-lifetime style hunt starting in 1991 and further restricted to a bulls-only hunt in 2007.  What researchers are discovering through the project involves a complex mix of environmental influences and social pressures.

MN DNR research results show contributors to the moose decline include, but may not be limited to, the environmental influences of: wolf and white-tail deer populations, parasites (such as winter ticks and brainworm), less frequent forest fires and logging on public lands, and climate change.  Factors best laid out by this February 7, 2016, Minneapolis Star Tribune article by Josephine Marcotty.  However, implementing management practices that would promote a healthier moose herd are also subject to, but not limited to, the social pressures from local landowners, wildlife enthusiasts, hunters, private business, and local economies and cultures.  Further elaboration on these factors can found in a February 16, 2018, Minnesota Public Radio News article by Dan Kraker.  Indeed, this struggle goes much deeper than simply saving the moose.  This permeates all facets of Northern Minnesota culture.

We recently received a survey from Colorado State University on behalf of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies requesting feedback “about public perceptions of issues concerning the management of fish and wildlife in your state.”  While the correspondence states it is “part of a national survey effort,” several questions in the survey itself are directed at specific concerns within Minnesota.  And, while it is obvious that surveys were customized to address specific issues within each state, one specific set of questions made me take special notice of this particular survey:

The interactions between wolves, moose, and deer are complex.  Moose are known to die from diseases that white-tail deer carry, and wolves prey on both species.  Please let us know how you feel about management of these three species in Minnesota….

Who is advocating for the moose in Minnesota?  Where does support for the Minnesota moose come from?  How is our society and culture promoting the practice of stewardship of wilderness for the preservation and conservation of the moose for the generations to come?  While there are organizations dedicated to most of the other large mammals in Minnesota, such as the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, the International Wolf Center, the American Bear Association, the North American Bear Center, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.  There appears to be no organization, foundation, association, federation, unlimited, or forever dedicated to the moose.  My search did lead me to the North American Moose Foundation, but that organization seems to have ceased operation sometime after their last scheduled annual banquet was cancelled, ironically intended to take place in Roseville, Minnesota, in February 2014.  The University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Zoo, and The Nature Conservancy, along with other conservation organizations, conduct or support research and conservation for the moose, but there appears to be no dedicated organization to support one of the largest mammals in North America.  In fact, a University of Minnesota researcher has resorted to crowd funding in order to raise money for her research!

To continue your own research into the story of the moose in Minnesota, follow these additional links:

Moose, Superior National Forest, Minnesota, USA, by USDA Forest Service
Moose, Superior National Forest, Minnesota, USA, by USDA Forest Service

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