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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Can well intended science like well intended medicine do more harm to Moose than good?..........That is the debate in Minnesota as biologists race to find the exact reasons for Moose population crash.........Over the past three year study of Moose in the land of a 1000 lakes, 25% of the 75 Moose calves that have been collared for study have been abandoned by their mothers, dooming them to an early death.......Add this untenable mortality index to the fact that historically 70% of calves do not make it to their first birthday even when not handled and you see why this Spring will be the last "collaring regimen" enacted by state biologists.................Most scientists feel that the scent of humans lingering on collared calves ups the stress level of mother calves leading them to fear for their own survival...........Biologists in other states who do similar collaring research say that what’s acceptable can depend on the species — caribou, for one, seem less inclined than moose to abandon their young when under stress......Other reasons cited for Moose Calf abandonment in Minnesota include sickly adult moose and the fact that there are not enough wolves to create a "landscape of fear" that would toughen up the Moose mothers and teach them how to protect their young, even when stressed.............Between calf abandonment, winter tics, deer brain disease and and changing weather patterns, the Moose of Minnesota are going to have to adapt more quickly to this confluence of factors in order not to become a non-functioning prey species in these northern woodlands

Minnesota researchers ask: 

What if studying moose 

calves puts them at risk?

High rate of radio-collared calf deaths could halt study of decline

Minnesota’s leading moose researchers have
 one last chance to get it right.
Next month, for the third time, they will
 try to put tracking collars on about 50
newborn calves in one of the most
comprehensive studies ever conducted
to find out why moose are in such
perilous decline in Minnesota. But
the calves’ mothers have abandoned
 those babies at painfully high rates,
creating an ethical dilemma for the
 researchers and the state’s elected
About a fourth of the 75 newborn calves
 collared so far have been left behind by
 their mothers, a rate that has confounded
 the scientists. Now they say that neither
they nor the public can tolerate another
spring in which human interference
results in too many newborn calves
that either starve or wind up in zoos
after frantic rescue efforts in the woods.
 Nor do they want their ambitious scientific
 study to be as cruel as nature itself —
 or to be seen by the public as making
 the moose problems worse.

Gov. Mark Dayton agrees. On Friday
his office said that, if humans are now
the second-leading cause of death for
collared calves, the additional risks to
them aren’t worth the potential scientific
 gains. He has told the DNR that this
 spring’s calf collaring with be the last.
 And researchers say that even this
 next round will be cut short if calf
 deaths are too high.
No abandonments is unrealistic,”
said Glenn DelGiudice, the lead
calf study researcher for the
 Minnesota Department of Natura
l Resources (DNR). It’s a common
 problem when humans handle some
 species of wildlife. The question, he
 said, is how many are “worth what
 we are learning?”
Because moose, that beloved symbol
 of the North Woods, are in big trouble.
 They’ve disappeared entirely in the
 northwest corner of Minnesota, and
in the northeast corner of the state
their numbers have dropped by
 more than half in the last decade,
 down to only 3,450. The state has
 embarked on a $1.7 million, long-
term research project of both adult
 and newborns to try to figure out
why, and what might be done to
save them.
Why do calves die?
A major piece of the puzzle is
understanding why so few calves
 in Minnesota make it through the
 first year of life. Using sophisticated
 GPS tracking collars on adult
females and their calves, scientists
 want to find out how they fare, and
what kills 70 percent of the young
ones before they make it to their
first winter.
In the first year of their study, however,
 the researchers were stunned when
11 out of 49 newborns died as a result
of the collaring itself — nine of them
 because they were abandoned by
their mothers.
One, found by the side of a road,
 was reunited with its mother, one
was euthanized with a bullet, and
seven died on their own. The grim
 tally led to some painful soul-
searching within the agency and
 some intense debates about
whether they should have had a
 calf rescue plan in place.
A DNR scientist who was part of
 the project and who has since left
the agency was especially sharp
in her criticisms.
“Every research project has to
have a plan to deal with the worst
 thing that can happen,” said Erika
 Butler, a veterinarian who was part
of the project the first year and who
 examined the bodies of starved
calves in her lab. “We had no plan
to deal with abandonments that we
 knew were possible.”
DelGiudice agreed that was a
 mistake, but said it was often
 difficult to determine that a calf
had been abandoned by its mother
 until too late.
Last year they did have a rescue
 plan. In addition, researchers rubbed
their clothes in dirt and leaves, used
 scent blockers and gave up the noisy
 helicopters that would keep them
 safe from charging mothers.
Still the problem got worse. Nine
 out of 25 collared calves were
abandoned by their mothers in the
 first two weeks of May. After a
seven-day halt to redesign their
 approach, researchers cut collaring
teams down to two people, and kept
 the calf contact time to 60 seconds.
 It may have helped: In the second
half of the month, two out of 11 calves
were abandoned, and they were a
 set of twins born to the same cow.
The best news, said DelGiudice, is
that seven of the calves abandoned
 in 2014 were successfully delivered
to safekeeping, one at a private animal
 facility and six to the Minnesota Zoo,
where they are now healthy young
yearlings on display to the public.
Now the scientists are hoping that
 they’ve found the right approach
to safely collar the calves. And they
 know they are in the spotlight.
Susan Thornton, executive director
of the Legislative-Citizen Commission
on Minnesota Resources that has
 provided $600,000 in lottery funds to
pay for the calf project this year, said
she’s had a few letters of concern
 from the public.
“My antennae are out,” she said.
DelGiudice said the DNR has now
 established a strict limit on the loss
 of calves this spring. They’ll stop if
 up to six calves are abandoned
because that’s how many zoos
 have said they will take, or if three
calves die as a result of collaring.
“That’s our ceiling,” he said.
There is no magic number. Biologists
 elsewhere who do similar collaring
 research say that what’s acceptable
can depend on the species — caribou,
 for one, seem less inclined than
moose to abandon their young when
 under stress. It also depends on the
 health of a population balanced by
what the research can do for it, they said.
“There is not a one-size-fits-all threshold,”
 said Brent Patterson, a biologist who has
 studied moose in Ontario.
Searching for answers
But there is clearly something amiss with
 Minnesota moose because, compared
 to cows in some places that fiercely
defend their young, they are extraordinarily
skittish. Maybe it’s because, as their
population decline suggests, they are sick,
researchers said. Maybe it’s because, in
contrast to Alaska, for example, there
 aren’t as many predators to make them fierce.
Or it may be, said DelGiudice that the
collars’ hourly location data and mortality
signals allows scientists to see what is
normally hidden from humans — a high
 rate of abandonment by cows.
As for the rest of the calves who were
 not abandoned — most of them didn’t
 make it through the first year. Only 10
out of 34 calves that were successfully
 collared in 2013 survived through winter
. The rest were either killed by wolves
and bears, slipped through the ice and
 drowned, or were abandoned by their
mothers later in the season. The
 following year the study was hampered
 by another problem — the collars fell
 off nine calves, leaving only six that
could be followed. They, too, died from
 predators. And DelGiudice and his fellow
 researchers have spent the winter testing
 collar durability, in part by trying them
out on beef calves.
But 70 percent calf mortality rate is too
 high to maintain a viable moose
population. They need at last half of
their offspring to make it through the
 first year to maintain their numbers.
The results of a parallel collaring
research project for adult moose
show they, too, are struggling with
 predators, diseases and parasites
 that kill them at a rate that’s too high
 to sustain the population. In 2013, a
 fifth of them died — twice the rate of
 other moose populations. The second
year only 11 percent died.
For a population that is under such
pressure, every additional year of
research produces a treasure trove
of data, said Ron Moen, a biologist
 at the University of Minnesota Duluth
 who is studying moose habitat and forage.
“We had two springs that were really
 late,” he said. “Now we have a really
 early spring and the cows will [be] in
better condition.”
That means, he said, that cows may
 do a better job of defending their
young against predators.
And, perhaps, the scientists.

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