Vexing questions about mooseMinnesota is shutting down its moose hunting season after moose populations dropped 52 percent in two years, and Montana is beginning a 10-year study on moose numbers in that state, which has likely seen moose populations decrease by at least 50 percent since the mid-’90s, though the wildlife agency doesn’t provide an estimate.
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
Minnesota is shutting down its moose hunting season after moose populations dropped 52 percent in two years, and Montana is beginning a 10-year study on moose numbers in that state, which has likely seen moose populations decrease by at least 50 percent since the mid-’90s, though the wildlife agency doesn’t provide an estimate.
Meanwhile, Wyoming, Colorado, Michigan and some Canadian provinces are “studying” moose declines. The moose herd out of Jackson, Wyo. has plunged by 70 percent in the last 15 years. Some blame a fly-borne, microscopic worm transmitted by flies. However, some 55 wolf kills have been reported in the Jackson area. Meanwhile, moose in the Snowy Range in southeastern Wyoming are doing fine. Why is that?
Moose are browsers, surviving on willow and other plant species found outside the coniferous forest. They thrive in areas that have recently burned, creating plant species that they find edible. Yet, for the last century the U.S. has been on a “Smokey the Bear” fire suppression campaign that has inhibited plant succession, and resulted in declining browse species.
In the West these days we have raging wildfires, fought at great expense. Most beneficial to wildlife are fires that are not infernos, but moderate blazes that burn timber in a mosaic pattern, creating nutritious areas filled with plants beneficial to moose and other species, while leaving some areas of heavy, coniferous cover. However, the “fire police” work mightily to put out those fires too, favorable as they are to wildlife. (As I have written in the past, much of this is due to the “beautiful people,” as I call them, building homes at the edge of the forest, and then expecting the government to protect them. Thus far it has worked — government-funded fire teams scramble to put out all forest fires every year.)
Then there is the predation issue … according to an Associated Press article, Lou Cornicelli, the Minnesota DNR’s wildlife research manager says that predation by wolves and black bears has “only a small effect on the adult moose population.” Cornicelli said researchers “hope to learn more from the new study about how predation affects calf survival rates.”
Is he kidding? Minnesota has some 2,400 wolves and the DNR is “hoping to learn more” about moose calf survival! What do they think the wolves are living on — field mice?
It is almost as crazy in Montana. The state wildlife agency admits that it hasn’t done much moose research since the 1960s, and since that time the agency has relied mostly on reports from hunters.
A Bozeman Daily Chronicle article written by Laura Lundquist reports that FWP biologist Nick DeCeare will start capturing and collaring female moose in three different areas of the state — the Cabinet Mountains in the northwest, the Big Hole Valley in the southwest, and along the northern Rocky Mountain Front northwest of Great Falls — to conduct a 10-year study on moose declines.
Everyone in Montana knows that the logging industry has been largely shut down by “environmentalists,” and that logging opened areas of coniferous forest that made ideal moose habitat. That habitat has been grown over due to fire suppression and the absence of logging.
Given short shrift is the fact that moose populations have been declining in Montana since the mid-1990s. Any guesses why that is the case? How about the reintroduction of wolves to the area at this precise time by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under the direction of former President Bill Clinton? Also, in Montana grizzly bears, black bears and mountain lions have increased in number over the last 40 years. They all prey upon moose.
One other point that seems to escape wildlife bureaucrats: In 2012 Montana FWP issued 45 antlerless moose permits to hunters, along with 15 either-sex moose permits. Any fledgling biologist worth his/her job will tell you that the most effective way to reduce a big game population is to target females, whether it be elk, deer, bighorn sheep … or moose. So why harvest female moose in a declining population if you are concerned about a plummeting moose population?
There are plenty of questions to be answered with moose population declines, but I don’t have a lot of confidence in the agencies charged with figuring out the problem.
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974