Early results in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) research into why the moose herd has declined dramatically in the last decade, it appears that the growth of the state’s wolf pack is having a negative impact.
The decline of the moose population prompted the DNR to close the moose hunting season until they get to the bottom of why the moose herd had declined from a high of 8,800 in 2006 to just 2,760 in January of 2013.
Wildlife researchers tranquilized 111 moose in January and February and collared them with GPS trackers and transmitters. This was done in an effort to determine the cause of the sharp decline in the huge mammal that has become synonymous with the rugged northeastern portion of the state.
Of the 111 that were collared, four died due to stresses of being tranquilized and released.
“Any moose that dies within two weeks of capture is automatically counted as a capture-related mortality,” said Erika Butler, DNR veterinarian in charge of the moose mortality program.
Two of the moose that died after being collared had lower-than-usual body fat in what had been a fairly normal, if not mild, winter in moose country.
Two other moose perished due to wolf attacks.
Seth Moore, director of biology and environment for the Grand Portage Band of Minnesota Chippewa, said the winter in far northern Minnesota has seen below-average snowfall and about normal temperatures. Moose, which are perfectly adapted for deep snow and low temperatures, should have come through winter without major problems.
So far, one of his moose has died, and investigators found a surprising cause.
“It was clear that wolves killed it. The site was just decimated from the struggle ... blood everywhere, trees knocked down. But when we got to looking in the lungs, they were just full of bright-green pneumonia,’ Moore said. “This was a health-compromised animal that wolves got to.”
While early indications from the DNR research are inconclusive, wolves seem to play a role in the death of Minnesota moose.
As an antecdote, some Twin Cities legislators are being pressured to cancel wolf hunting in Minnesota.
If predation is a major cause for a declining moose herd, careful balanced management of the wolf pack is essential.