Tough winter gives Minnesota's moose a boost

Collared moose
A successfully collared cow moose turns back toward the capture crew before ambling off into the thicket to be reunited with her calf.
Courtesy the Minnesota DNR, file

The declining moose population in northeast Minnesota seems to have gotten a boost from the severe winter.

So far this year, an ongoing state Department of Natural Resources study shows moose mortalities are down two-thirds from what they were at this point last year.

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Wildlife Research Manager Lou Cornicelli said a number of factors likely contributed, including a drop in the number of ticks. That could be an important, because a single moose can carry 50,000 to 100,000 winter ticks. He said wolves may have focused more on deer, which are easier to catch during snowy winters.

"It's certainly encouraging when we get these severe winters and complain so badly about them that moose seem to do OK."

Last year, during the first year of the DNR study, 21 percent of the moose researchers collared died. Some were killed by wolves. Others had brainworm and severe tick infestation.

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So far this year, the mortality rate is only about 7 percent. That follows a population survey earlier this year that showed a spike in estimated moose numbers from 2,700 in 2013 to 4,300 this year.

DNR researchers have placed GPS collars on 100 moose in the second year of the study, which aims to better determine what is killing the moose population in northeastern Minnesota.

A population survey earlier this year that showed a spike in estimated moose numbers from 2,700 in 2013 to 4,300 this year.

Still, Cornicelli doesn't think moose have increased prospects for survival. He said the higher population estimate likely was caused by ideal survey conditions due to the thick snow cover.

Long-term trends show the moose continuing to decline. Cornicelli said the moose population in northeast Minnesota has dropped by over half in the past eight years.

"But it's certainly encouraging," he said of their present numbers. "Hopefully next year we'll be able to connect more dots and see another incremental increase."