DNR to track fading moose populationThe Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a new tool that could help answer questions about the state’s declining moose population: text messaging.
By: Tom Olsen, Lake County News Chronicle
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a new tool that could help answer questions about the state’s declining moose population: text messaging.
The agency plans to track 100 moose in Lake and Cook Counties with collars that will alert researchers when a moose has died.
“The key with a mortality study is to get there quick,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. “The ability to get to the animal in a short period of time makes all the difference.”
The DNR will collar 75 cows and 25 bulls, believed to be the largest number of moose ever tracked for a single study. Additionally, researchers will implant devices in the digestive track of 27 animals. These devices record heartbeat and internal body temperature.
If one of the collared moose doesn’t move for more than six hours, or if the internal device senses that the animal has died, researchers will receive a text message alerting them to the moose’s location.
“There have been studies since 2002 looking at the underlying mortality factors using GPS technology, but the big difference with this study is the technology,” Cornicelli said. “Before, we didn’t have a way to get quickly notified. Wolves have scavenged and organs break down so fast. With this technology, it’ll send a text message saying, ‘Here, I’m dead, come get me.’”
The $1.2 million study is funded by Minnesota’s Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which generates money through the state lottery.
Due to the size of moose, which average about 1,000 pounds, their carcasses tend to decompose after about 24 hours, so researchers are banking on text messaging to allow them to reach the animals quicker than ever before.
Once on scene, the DNR will be able to retrieve the animal or perform a field necropsy with the hope of determining the cause of death before the organs deteriorate.
The collars and devices should be installed within about three weeks, Cornicelli said. The DNR will tranquilize the moose by shooting darts from a helicopter. Researchers will also take a blood sample to check for pregnancy, pull a tooth to determine age and look for signs of health issues for research purposes.
Then it’s a matter of playing the waiting game. The DNR will track the moose for at least six years, which should be enough time to collect data given the increasing mortality rates of moose.
Researchers expect the study to provide plenty of insight, although it will take a while.
“The next two to four years should be very informative,” Cornicell said.
The DNR is undertaking the project due to drastic declines in the Minnesota moose population. About 20 percent of the population has disappeared every year since 2008, according to the agency.
Past studies from the agency show that predation and hunting are not the primary causes of death for moose, and researchers have been baffled by the sudden decline in the once abundant population.
A disproportionate number of females are being collared so that the agency can expand the study this spring during the calving season. Once the cows give birth, the DNR plans to outfit the calves with tracking collars as well.
DNR estimates put the moose population at just 4,230 in the state, approximately half of the 2005 population. Most of the moose are located in the far north regions of St. Louis, Lake and Cook Counties, along the Canadian border.
DNR officials say they are hopeful that they will be able to pinpoint the leading causes of death and implement wildlife strategies to help preserve the dying population.
In addition to the DNR, the study has a number of other partners, including the University of Minnesota Duluth, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the 1854 Treaty Authority and the University of Minnesota’s veterinary and wildlife departments.