New numbers show MN's moose population is down to just a few thousand

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Minnesota's moose population is still just a fraction of what it was less than a decade ago.

That's according to the Department of Natural Resource's annual moose survey, which found that despite efforts to protect the animal, its population continues to dwindle.

The new survey counted 3,450 animals for 2015, compared to 4,350 last year and 2,760 the year before that.

That is a year-to-year fluctuation – but the DNR says there's been "no statistical change" overall. The bigger number: There were an estimated 8,840 moose in 2006. The recent numbers are all down about 60 percent since then.

And Lou Cornicelli, a DNR wildlife research manager, says it's that long-term trend that's worrisome.

What's behind the decline?

The Star Tribune says brain worm and winter ticks could be to blame, in addition to the animals simply falling prey to wolves and bears.

Climate is another possible factor.

The DNR says the animals are have adapted to survive cold temperatures.

Moose are sensitive to heat, and when it’s hot in the summer they tend to eat less, which stops them from putting on enough fat to get through the winter, the paper says.

Mike Schrage, a wildlife biologist for the Fond du lac Band of Chippewa, told the Pioneer Press there were some good signs this year. For example, in areas where major forest fires occurred recently, "there were moose everywhere." They like to eat the new growth that pops up after a blaze, he said.

Another important note: the moose decline is an issue across North America. The New York Times reports scientists from Montana to New Hampshire are looking for answers.

The survey

The DNR has been counting moose in Northern Minnesota since 1960. A spotter counts moose as a pilot flies a helicopter across 52 randomly selected plots of 13 square miles.

As for what's ahead, the DNR says its researchers will collar 36 more moose in the next couple of weeks. Another 50 newborn calves will be collared this spring.

The DNR stopped allowing moose hunting in 2013 pending a recovery in the population.

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