Northeastern Minnesota's shrinking moose herd seems to have survived the winter in better shape than a year ago.
MPR News reports researchers with the Department of Natural Resources found a lower mortality rate this winter, when 7 percent of the moose in their study died compared with 21 percent the previous year.
DNR wildlife research manager Lou Cornicelli tells MPR the harsh weather may have been a factor in the improved survival rate. He says the cold may have killed off more of the ticks that plague moose and the deep snow may have steered wolves toward deer, which are easier to catch in those conditions.
But when it comes to the decline in Minnesota's moose numbers, there's a lot of educated guessing going on. Definitive explanations for the loss of moose and how to stop it are elusive, which is why the DNR is in the midst of an ongoing study of the animals.
In its annual survey of the region the DNR counted more moose this year but said the numbers did not indicate any significant change in the population.
An aerial survey that looked specifically at Voyageurs National Park found the moose numbers there held steady this winter.
Holding steady may be a sign of progress in an area where a population plunge has claimed half of Minnesota's moose in eight years. The precipitous decline – and the effort to learn what's causing it – have captured attention around the country.
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Biologists are also taking a closer look at moose in areas where they seem to be thriving, notably Maine.
The Iron Mountain Daily News reported last month on the gradual success of a nearly 30-year-old effort to re-establish moose on Michigan's Upper Peninsula.