DNR devleops plan to save moose in northeastern Minn.Minnesota wildlife managers released a moose research and management plan Monday that they hope will reverse a population decline and keep the big animals in the state for decades to come.
By: Forum Newspapers, Lake County News Chronicle
Minnesota wildlife managers released a moose research and management plan Monday that they hope will reverse a population decline and keep the big animals in the state for decades to come.
The plan, two years in the making, seeks to bolster research into what is killing moose faster than they can reproduce and then strives to find what, if anything, the state can do to turn the population around.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates about 4,900 moose are in northeastern Minnesota, down 11 percent from last year and down from more than 8,000 a decade ago.
In northwestern Minnesota, the population crashed from thousands of animals in the 1970s to fewer than 100 today.
The DNR plan, now open for public comment, includes:
-Keeping deer numbers in the primary moose range in Lake, St. Louis, and Cook counties to 10 or fewer per square mile, considered a critical density because deer carry brain worm parasites fatal to moose. Most areas already are at that level or lower.
-Banning recreational deer feeding in that primary moose range to avoid artificially raising deer numbers.
-Closing the moose hunting season in any moose management zones where hunter success rates drop below 20 percent for three years (below 10 percent inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness).
-Improving moose habitat, including guidelines for land managers to better serve moose.
-Continued research into the causes of moose mortality, especially calf moose, including the effect of wolves and bears killing young calves.
-Reducing hunting permits as the ratio of bulls to cows continues to drop. Experts believe that if the number of bulls drops below two-thirds of the cow numbers, the overall population could collapse.
With last winter’s aerial survey showing bull numbers down to 64 percent of cows, the DNR already moved this year to cut hunting permits in half, from 213 bulls-only licenses last year to just 105.
“In theory, we are right on that line with the bull ratio, so we moved to take action,’’ Lou Cornicelli, the agency’s big game program coordinator, told the News Tribune. “We’ve already been doing some of this stuff as we prepared the plan, and some things are going to require a little more work.”
The same winter survey showed only 24 calves per 100 cows, the lowest number of young moose ever.
Cornicelli said there appears to be no silver bullet to cure what ails Minnesota’s moose, and noted funding for additional research remains a major hurdle.
“This isn’t a linear deal where we can say, ‘If we do that, this will happen,’ ” he said. “We don’t know how moose will react, or even if they will.”
Two years ago a panel of 18 state, regional, national, and international moose experts met several times over nine months to compile a moose management plan for the DNR based on their best hunches on what’s causing the problem and what can be done to stem the decline.
The basic problem is that more moose are dying than is considered safe to continue the population, and researchers still aren’t fully sure what’s killing them. Higher summer and winter temperatures, parasites spread by deer, disease, and probably other factors have combined to thwart moose at the southern edge of their natural range, experts say. Moose don’t eat on warm summer days and are left in poorer condition to make it through winter.
The trend to warmer winters also allows more parasites like ticks to survive and hurt moose. Warmer winters also encourage more deer to live farther north, increasing the risk of brain worm in moose.
Public comments on the moose plan will be accepted through Sept. 30. To see the plan, and to make comments, go to www.mndnr.gov/moose.