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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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Sunday, December 4, 2016

We know that Moose populations have plummeted in certain sections of the USA, with the Minnesota drop-off particularly acute........The article below is an excellent primer and historical review of this troubling wildlife story........"It is important to know that until the late 1800s, woodland caribou were the predominant deer species in much of the current core of Minnesota’s moose range (Kallok)"..................... "But the caribou numbers decreased rapidly as the mature conifer forests were logged"................... "By the 1920s. caribou had completely vanished from northeastern Minnesota due to loss of habitat and unregulated killing"........... "In contrast, moose managed to flourish in the early 1900s as aspen, birch, and other broad-leaved browse proliferated".................. "Despite the favorable moose habitat that followed the ax and saw, this moose renaissance was short-lived due to poaching, poorly regulated hunting, and disease"............ "By 1922 as few as 2,500 moose remained in Minnesota, and the state officially closed all moose hunting (Kallok)".................By 2007, only 100 moose remained in northwestern Minnesota with poor nutrition, parastic liver flukes, warmer temperatures and declining pregnancy the leading constricting factors........And as you read this blog post, there are only about 3400 Moose remaining in northeastern Minnesota, in a free-fall from the 8800 strong herd existing there just 10 years ago in 2006..................The author does not discuss too extensively that deer were never a major browser in Minnesota until we started clearing and altering the land and then warming termperatures allowed deer to proliferate in the northern sector of the state.............Wolves had always been in rough equilibrium with Caribou and Moose,,,,,,,,,,,,Now the easy to kill deer were preyed on by the wolves, the deer tics that do not kill deer but debilitate Moose proliferated,,,,,,,,,,,,and the Wolves found the sick moose easier targets than historically.............So now, it always comes back to killing more wolves to save the moose and never a discussion as to how to reduce deer herds and restore habitat to more favorable conditions for moose

Moose in Minnesota:
 Speculation on decline

By Riley John Irish
HTF Contributor

Minnesota cow moose. MN DNR photo. Minnesota cow moose. MN DNR photo.

Introduction to the Moose
The moose is Minnesota’s largest wild animal,
 and Minnesota is one of the few states that
have moose. According to the Minnesota DNR
website, “It is the largest member of the deer
 family, averaging 950 to 1,000 pounds
 and sometimes exceeding 1,200 pounds.
 Its antlers sometimes measure five feet
across and weigh up to 40 pounds.”
Moose have rather poor eyesight, but
acute senses of smell and hearing. The
y have long legs and splayed hooves
which enable them to move easily in
marshy areas and along northern
Minnesota streams and lakes where
 they browse on aquatic vegetation 
and on various types of willows and
 shrubs along shorelines. Moose are
 quite capable of diving to the bottom 
of shallow ponds and lakes, where they
 rip up bottom-growing vegetation.
Though they appear formidable, moose
 are seldom aggressive. Exceptions
are a cow that feels her calf is in danger
 or a bull in rut (Minnesota DNR website).
collared moose calf

Collared moose calf in Minnesota. MN DNR photo.

Moose in Minnesota and elsewhere
Northeastern Minnesota is home to the last stronghold of
 moose in the state. Sadly, the region’s population of this
 animal has been in decline since 2006. As stated by
Michael A. Kallok, “In 2006, an estimated 8,800- moose
still roamed across LakeCook, and St. Louis counties.
Hunting for moose ended in 2012, and the latest estimate
 places the region’s moose population at 3,450 animals.”
Until the late 1800s woodland caribou were the
 predominant deer species in much of the current core
of Minnesota’s moose range (Kallok). But the caribou
numbers decreased rapidly as the mature conifer forests
were logged. By the 1920scaribous had completely
 vanished from northeastern Minnesota due to loss of
 habitat and unregulated killing. In contrast, moose
managed to flourish in the early 1900s as aspen, birch,
and other broad-leaved browse proliferated. Despite the
 favorable moose habitat that followed the ax and saw,
 this moose renaissance was short-lived due to
poaching, poorly regulated hunting, and disease.
 By 1922 as few as 2,500 moose remained in
 Minnesota, and the state officially closed all
 moose hunting (Kallok).

Gray wolf howling. Wikimedia photo. Gray wolf howling. Wikimedia photo.

In the late 1950s the state’s moose population, which may
 have dipped as low as 500 animals, began to grow
 significantly, expanding from northeastern Minnesota to
the prairie edge of the northwest.
But by the 1960s, fretting over moose disease had been
 replaced with concerns over too many moose for the
 available habitat. Aerial counts showed as many as
 four moose per square mile in Lake, Cook, Marshall,
 Beltrami, and Kittson counties, according to a 1967
report in the Volunteer Magazine. The report noted,
 “Food conditions for the moose are deteriorating as
 a result of this heavy pressure.” The news was
 delivered to readers at the behest of the DNR and
 the U.S. Forest Service, which both advocated a
moose-hunting season. Noting the success of the
state’s carefully managed deer seasons, the report
recommended applying “these same management
policies to our moose population before nature
applies her own ruthless laws of population control -
starvation, disease, and lower reproduction.”

Large bull moose in the Superior National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Moose hunting returned to Minnesota in 1971. The
season established by the Legislature requested that
 hunters apply for permits in groups of four, and only one
 moose was allowed per party. More than 37,000 hunters
applied, and 400 parties were selected for the hunt. That
 first season 374 moose were harvested. Areas open to
moose hunting and the number of permits given out for
 the hunt grew throughout the 1970s. During the 1983
season, hunters took a record 1,179 moose. A small
news item in the Jan.-Feb. 1984 issue touted Minnesota
 as offering the best opportunity in the lower 48 to bag a
But in the early 1990s, the moose population in the
northwestern part of the state began to decline. The
region’s once stable population of about 4,000 moose
 continued to dwindle, and hunting in northwestern
counties ended after the 1997 season. By 2007, the
last time a survey was conducted in northwestern
Minnesota, only 100 moose remained. No single
cause for this decline was determined, though DNR
 research did discover that cows in the northwest
 had a low pregnancy rate of 55 percent, compared
to a typical rate of 83 percent in other North American
 moose populations. Poor nutrition, parasitic liver
flukes, and warmer summer temperatures may have
also contributed to the moose population’s collapse,
 according to a DNR study
(Minnesota Conservation Volunteer).
Here in Minnesota, scientists have recorded the
dramatic decline of moose in the northwestern
 half of the state and are now concerned about the
declining populations in the northeastern half.
According Ron Moen, our neighbors in
North Dakota are seeing moose in western and
 southern prairie ranges that are not typical for
this species. In Quebec, wildlife managers are
concerned that too many moose are munching
down the forests. Wyoming researchers are
documenting a decline in moose population.
 In New England, there’s a problem with a
thriving moose population and moose-vehicle
collisions. Scien- tists also shared something
they’d never seen before - a video of wolves
swimming out to attack a moose in the water
(Natural Research Institution).
Colorado’s moose population now tops 2,300,
up 35 percent over the past two years, beyond
the state’s latest target maximum number. The
 surge there - at a time when moose herds are
 dwindling dramatically in Minnesota, Montana,
 and Wyoming - is bewildering wildlife managers.
 Another factor may be the relative lack of natural
 predators in Colorado’s high country. Colorado
wildlife biologists say they’ve documented only
 a few cases of black bears and mountain lions
 killing small moose (Andy Holland).
But as the years have gone by, the moose
 population numbers in northeastern Minnesota
have continued to fall or stay lower than historic
 averages as researchers and DNR officials
struggle to get a handle on what is causing moose
to “tip over” - a common term used to describe how
 moose are dying in the prime of their lives with little
 explanation. “One out of four or five is dying (in their
 prime) and that isn’t right for an animal that should
live for 15 years,” said Tom Rusch, DNR wildlife
 manager in Tower. “They shouldn’t be dying,
 but we don’t know why they are.”
 (Jesse WhiteMesabi Daily News.)
Survival/mortality rate of moose
Another problem is that moose calves are not
 surviving as well as they used to. “For every
100 cows, about 100 calves are born each year,”
said Moen. “A decade ago, 40 to 50 percent of
 calves would live through January. In recent
years, only 20 to 30 percent of calves made it
 that long.” Adult moose are also dying at an
unusually high rate compared to other populations.
“The high mortality rate in both adult and are
 moose is too high to sustain the population,” 
said Moen.
 (Natural Resources Research Institute,
 Cheryl Rietan.)
Of 150 adult moose radio collared since 2002
in Minnesota, 119 have subsequently died, most
 from unknown causes thought to be diseases
or parasites. The number of cows accompanied
by calves and twin calves increased in 2012, which
 means more calves can potentially mature into
 adults. But the cows and calf ratio, estimated at
36 calves per 100 cows in 2012, remains well
 below 1990s estimated that likely contributed
to a peak population in the early 2000s. The 2012
 survey results also showed the bull-to-cow ratio
increased from 2011 to an estimated 108 bulls per
100 cows, indicating that more bulls were available
 to breed with cows. (Mark Lenarz, in an article
in Mesabi Daily News.)
The Minnesota Department of NaturalResource
 captured 49 moose calves and fitted them with
GPS transmitter collars. Within days of finishing 
their work, 22 of the newborns already had died.
Most were killed by bears and wolves.
 Researchers say as many as eight may have
died from the stress of being captured and
 collared, but that won’t be known for sure until
more lab tests are completed. Fifty-eight percent
of the cows that delivered calves in May had twins.
 Researchers had expected only a 20 to 30 percent
rate of twin births. “That just blew us away. This
 may have its roots back in the mild winter of 2012,
 that more cows went into the rut and into this past
winter healthy and with higher body weights and
with higher body weights and could sustain twins.”
(Glenn Delgiudice, in an article in Mesabi Daily
News.) The mortality rate of the group of calves
tracked by the DNR was 71 percent, which far
exceeds the roughly 55 percent rate that is
 normal for moose population that lives alongside
 predators. The rate varies based on predators-to
-prey ratios in certain areas, “but we would hope
to have about a 45 percent calf survival rate after
 one year,” DelGiudice said. Northeastern
Minnesota’s adult moose population is also
shrinking, but at a slower rate. Of 107 adults
 collared by the DNR last winter, 19 have perished.
Nine of those were injured or killed by wolves.
 Northeastern Minnesota’s moose population was
 thriving 10 to 15 years ago, and at the time was
 roughly equal to its wolf population at around
 9,000 each. The wolf population is still about the
same size, but there are now fewer than 3,000
moose. (DelGiudice).
Crews just finished collaring 36 adult moose to
replace those that died last year and plan to colla
r another 50 calves after they’re born this spring.
“Mortality rates of 21 percent among adult moose
 and 74 percent for the calves in the first year of
the studies illustrate the complexity of Minnesota’s
 moose population problem.” (Lou Cornicelli,
Mesabi Daily News).
Moose research results
Disappearing habitat, deer encroachment on
 habitat, increased parasites, sustained warmer
 weather, and predators all have a toll on the
population of moose. Let’s take a look at those
 statistics of the latest surveys and collared
 studies conducted by the MN DNR research
 personnel. In the first year of the study, which
 took place in 2013, 18.4 percent of the moose
 cows abandon their calves, following capture
and attaching of calf radio collar. In 2014, that
number grew to over 50 percent due to capture
 time allowed. In 2015, the government of
 Minnesota ended further researcher due to
this high mortality rate. Now, not including the
capture mortality rate, the remaining 35 calves
 that survived, 24 were killed by predators, or
 68.6 percent. This is the highest single factor
 besides capture.
The DNR estimated a bull (108) to cow (100)
 ratio of near 50:50, which indicates breeding
is not a factor. This also shows that bulls are
living longer than cows maybe due to their
ability to better defend themselves against
predators. The study also surprised researchers
 that many cows are having twins, which I
 conclude means the mild winters are providing
 healthy circumstances allowing the cows to
 bear twins. This factor eliminates un-healthy
 factors such as ticks parasites and diseases
as a prime cause. With the expanding moose
 populations in North Dakota, Colorado, and
New England, I don’t think warm weather is a
 major factor in moose mortality. Although the
high predator population of the wolves, may
 present a challenged and could be creating
a stress situation in which they eat less and
become weakened, which could account for
the “tip over” factor described by the DNR.
Moose populations are rising in Quebec which
 has open season on wolves, in New England
with no wolf predations, and in Colorado, an
area with no predators.
Unraveling the mystery
I believe climate change has brought about
 milder winters that provided a perfect storm
to occur. All three species - the moose, deer,
 and wolf - came to a peak population at the
same time in 2006. At this time the moose and
wolves were at an estimated 9000 each, with
white tail-deer at record highs. After that peak
the deer herds started to dwindle due to the
wolves in the Northern regions of MN. Now
 with the high numbers of wolves still remaining,
the moose are next in the food chain until they
 disappear and the wolves start to die from
over population. The target number for
 sustainable Minnesota wolf population is
1,500 as stated under the
Federal Endangered Species Act. But
 without proper management the balance
of predator vs. prey is not proportional and
 can ultimately effect a species survival.
Solution to the problem
The Minnesota DNR uses research to
 back their methods of management and
 I believe they were on the right track in
starting a wolf hunting season. The state
of Alaska, with the largest moose and wolf
population, culls wolves by aerial shooting
which resulted in a 35 percent increase in
 moose calf survival rate the following year.
 The Minnesota DNR should have used the
Alaska DNR methods of moose
management, which has seen dramatic
 results. During the 2012, 2013, and 2014
 hunting seasons, the MN DNR issued
 permits for timber wolf hunting, but the
 quotas where kept low and were met early
 in the season with minimal impact on the
 wolf population. Then an animal rights
 group filed a law suit, and a judge pu
t the wolf back on the endangered
 species list and halted the hunting season.

Animal right groups
Some animal right groups say the negative
 portrayal of wolves comes from fairytales
like Little Red Riding Hood. And some
people believe we don’t need to hunt
and trap in modern times anymore. But
with future economic uncertainties people
 may again need wildlife to survive, as did
our forefathers. Wildlife like deer and moose
 provide lean protein that is free of antibiotics
and growth hormones which is found in
 domestic animals.
Animal rights groups like PETA and the
 Humane Society euthanize, according
to their estimates, 4 million animals per
year to control the pet population, but
when outdoorsmen want to control a
predator population we are called i
nhumane. What would happen if a
 judged stopped the euthanizing of
 the pet population?
When the DNR studied early predator
 populations that where managed by
bounties and seasons, they found the
 populations did not see dramatic highs
 and lows. Ultimately, they managed to
 keep the population in an average and
 sustainable range. The Minnesota DNR
 studied the moose and wolf populations
 for years in the Isle Royal National Park.
On this island there is no hunting or
management of the wolf or moose.
When the wolves became over-populated
 within this area the wolf packs outgrew their
 own territory and killed each other’s packs.
 Also, inbreeding occurred with domestic
dogs. Moose populations on Isle Royal
peaked in 1995 at a time when the wolf
 population was at its lowest. This is
also happening now, as the moose
population is soaring, and wolves are
at their lowest numbers since researchers
began studies 50 years ago.
Some people argue to let nature take its
course during these high and low life
cycles of the predator/prey species.
These cycles may take 10-20 years to
 complete and with man’s encroachment
 into the wild certain species might not
have the ability to come back and may
 become extinct. We as human beings
 need to understand and provide a
 balance within nature. If the wolf
population was maintained at 1,500,
 as advised and described in the
Endangered Species Act, our
 Minnesota moose population
would have remained sustainable
and managed through hunting quotas.
The sale of hunting licenses provides
 essential income to aid the DNR in
proper management of our wildlife.
The best management of our Minnesota
moose is to control the predator/prey
 population through hunting seasons to
ensure survival of this magnificent big
game wildlife species. It is ironic that
 animal right groups, which I believe
are to blame for the decline of the moose
by preventing the delisting of the timber
wolf which would have allowed management
through hunting, now want to have the
moose protected under the Endangered
 Species Act. The timber wolf is a mystical
 animal and its howl is truly a “call of the wild.”
 I do not promote the killing of wolves to
 extinction, but only to control their population
 to ensure its survival and the survival of its
prey as well.
Editor’s note: For updated information 
on moose mortality research in Minnesota, 
html. – Jean Cole
This paper was written in May, 2016, for
 Dr. Aaron Kelson’s Conservation of
 Natural Resourcesclass at
 Mesabi Range College in Virginia, MN.
 Riley John Irish lives in Mountain Iron, MN.

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