Minnesota moose count falls in latest survey; DNR says trend stable

Researchers test a sedated moose.
A moose rests while researchers finish administering tests and attaching a collar on the Grand Portage reservation north of Grand Marais, Minn. The DNR's 2023 moose survey found a significant one-year drop in the estimated population. Officials believe the trend line is relatively stable.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News | 2016

Minnesota’s struggling northern moose population saw a significant drop over the past year, but conservation experts say the long-term trend still appears relatively stable even as herd numbers swing.

This year's count was estimated at about 3,300 moose in the northeastern part of the state. That's a steep drop from last year's count of 4,700. Officials, though, say counts have stabilized around 3,700 over the past decade after falling dramatically from about 8,000 in 2009.

“Annual changes since 2013 appear to be relatively small on average and random, with some years showing a population increase and others a decrease,” the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said in a statement Thursday as it posted the latest numbers.

Concerns remain. Researchers with the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have reported high mortality rates on moose they've outfitted with GPS collars and seen similar decreases in aerial surveys around Grand Portage, Minn., and Isle Royale, Mich., the DNR said.

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Experts say Minnesota moose continue to face stresses, including climate change, habitat loss, parasites and predation from wolves.

The 2023 DNR survey showed calves made up an estimated 16 percent of the population and the estimated calf-cow ratio was 38 calves per 100 cows. Those factors are central to the creatures’ reproductive success.

“Those estimates are slightly lower than last year’s figures but are comparable to values observed during the last 10 years, especially considering moderate-to-high levels of sampling uncertainty,” the DNR noted.

A landmark 2013 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 Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the 1854 Treaty Authority helped pay for and staff the annual population survey.