What's killing the Minnesota moose?

Collared moose
A moose fitted with a radio tracking collar looked back at researchers before heading into the thicket to be reunited with her calf.
Courtesy the Minnesota DNR

The DNR's Michelle Carstensen joined The Daily Circuit Monday to discuss the mysteriously high death rate of Minnesota's moose herd. Some highlights of that conversation:

Mortality rate can't go on for long
"Our non-hunting moose mortality — if we take hunting out of the equation, how many adult moose are dying a year — is about 21 percent. In other North American moose populations, they should be more like 8 to 12 percent in a healthy, sustainable herd. So we're seeing almost double that rate. And that is certainly not a sustainable direction. ... The model predicts that our northeast herd would be at a very low level by 2030."

Wolves take the weak
"Wolves have the amazing ability to detect ... usually within 10 seconds, whether or not it's worth their effort to pursue that prey item. And they're not going to waste their time on an animal that's robust and vigorous. But they can put their money on an animal that's showing some sort of weakness, and they have an amazingly evolved ability to detect that in a rapid amount of time. What a great payoff for a wolf to be able to consume a moose for the pack. That's a lot of protein and calories they can intake."

Can I moose that latte for you?
"I think there's an amazing amount of interest in moose for Minnesotans. And especially up within moose range. There's so much attention paid to moose, as far as how people name their businesses, or promote things within their stores, that people really love moose. And they want to make any effort that they can to increase their chance of survival. ... We have a lot of folks engaged in our work that are very supportive of what we're doing and trying to really understand what's going on with moose because they want to maintain them in our part of the state for as long as possible."

What can be done? Maybe nothing
"It's certainly a possibility that we may look at this question and study this problem and really not come up with an answer that we can do anything about. An example would be: What if we really believe the driver is climate change? And that these longer winters, better parasite survival, poorer body condition in the moose, is really the underlying driver? What can we do with wildlife managers to combat that? And the answer is probably going to be, Not very much."

Watch a CBS News report on the DNR's research program.

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