Minnesota’s struggling northern moose population is showing some hopeful signs of stability and possible recovery.
Head counts stayed relatively stable in 2022 for the 11th consecutive year, while calves now make up nearly 20 percent of the population, the highest since 2005, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said Monday.
While the DNR described the January survey results as good news and said researchers were optimistic about the immediate future, the agency also cautioned that moose numbers are 47 percent below their 2006 peak and that the animals still face long-term risks.
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Among its findings, the 2022 survey estimates the moose population at 4,700, statistically unchanged from the last survey in 2020 but the highest since 2011, when the population was midway through a steep decline.
The estimated calf-cow ratio this year was 45 calves per 100 cows. The percentage of calves and the calf-cow ratio are the highest since 2005, when the population was near its peak and considered healthy, the DNR said in a statement.
“Both factors are indicators of potential improvement in reproductive success, which has a positive impact on population numbers,” researchers said.
After peaking at an estimate of 8,840 animals in 2006, the moose population in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region plummeted between 2009 and 2012.
A landmark mortality study launched by the DNR found that parasites like brain worm and winter ticks, infections and wolves were responsible for the majority of adult moose deaths. Wolves and bears were killing large numbers of moose calves.
The 2022 moose survey was conducted through overflights of about 6,000 square miles of the northeastern quarter of the state by helicopter in early January. The DNR uses computer modeling to translate moose sightings into wider population estimates.
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the 1854 Treaty Authority helped pay for and staff the annual population survey.