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Making sure Minnesota moose are more than a fading memory

In just 10 years’ time, moose numbers in Minnesota have dropped from nearly 9,000 to as few as 3,500.

Like a lot of us who were born and raised in Minnesota, I can remember the first time I ever saw a moose like it was yesterday.

Collette Adkins

I was about 10 years old and summer camping with the Girl Scouts in the Boundary Waters. At dusk I wandered down to the lake by myself and there they were — a moose mom and calf feeding at the edge of the lake, big mouthfuls of wet weeds dripping into the water.

But those kinds of magical moments are in real danger of disappearing forever in Minnesota, a disturbing reflection of the quickly declining health of the natural ecosystems we all depend on.

As a biologist who loves our state’s expansive natural areas, I spend my share of time in the great outdoors Minnesota has long been known for. But it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve even caught a glimpse of a moose in the wild.

A nearly 60% drop in a decade

Despite countless family camping trips up north, my kids – ages 8 and 9 – have never seen one, a sad fact that reflects a nearly 60 percent drop in the state moose population over the last decade.

That’s why the conservation group I work for filed a petition last week asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to award Endangered Species Act protection to the Midwestern subspecies of moose that’s found only in increasingly fragmented populations in Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Joining the Center for Biological Diversity on the petition was Honor the Earth, a Native American-led organization that works to create awareness and support for environmental issues.

This issue is pressing: In just 10 years’ time, moose numbers in Minnesota have dropped from nearly 9,000 to as few as 3,500.

Biggest threats come from climate change

The causes of the dramatic decline are many, from unchecked habitat destruction caused by mining and logging industries, to overharvesting. But scientists agree that the greatest threats – threats that could virtually eliminate moose from Minnesota within five years – all stem from the same source: climate change.

Moose have thick, insulating fur that allows them to survive freezing temperatures. But in a warming climate, that same trait suddenly puts moose at increased risk of overheating, which leads to malnutrition and lowers their immune systems. At the same time fast-warming temperatures are causing the northern boreal forests of aspen, spruce and birch to shift further north. Minnesota is losing the food sources and habitats that moose require.

The warming environment is also allowing more ticks and pathogens to thrive. As a result, the subspecies of moose known to this area for thousands of years is now is now being threatened by a number of parasites and diseases. We’ve seen an explosion in the winter tick population resulting in high moose mortality rates. It’s not unusual to find moose with literally of thousands of ticks on them.

But it’s not the forces of climate change, alone, that threaten moose. Habitat destruction from planned mining, economic development, and forestry practices also threaten our moose. A 2006 study examined impacts to known wildlife corridors for sensitive species in northeast Minnesota. It found that six of the 12 known wildlife corridors in the Mesabi Iron Range will likely become isolated, fragmented, or lost completely, and almost 9,000 acres of habitat will likely be destroyed.

Needed: habitat protections, research …

Listing moose under the Endangered Species Act would provide additional habitat protections necessary to help moose weather our warming world. It would also bring additional federal dollars to moose research and highlight the cost of failing to address emissions of greenhouse gases.

The good news is that even when it comes to the difficult task of wrestling with the forces of climate change, there is a clear upside: The fact that scientists agree that climate change is largely a human-caused problem suggests that it’s a problem we can also fix.

If we’re willing.

Collette Adkins is Minneapolis-based biologist and lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, where much of her work focuses on protecting the region’s most-imperiled species. 

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 07/13/2015 - 10:27 am.

    Biggest threat comes from wolves. They eat moose. There are no wolves on Isle Royal and the moose population is exploding. You can’t have it both ways, protect the wolves and protect the moose.. Now is about the time the climate change group goes nuts and tries to explain the Isle Royal moose explosion is because global warming hasn’t affected the island due to Lake Superior being cold. I live up here and the Arrowhead is also cold.

    • Submitted by Luke Zoske on 07/17/2015 - 12:23 pm.

      Moose population threat.

      I agree 100%, the global warming fanatics are just looking to chime in on anything they can, now with the wolf population so high, the moose are declining and they try to play there role and claim global warming. Global warming caused by humans has been proven wrong so many times, right now the earth is in a cooling period, the earth has cycles. It will do what it wants whether humans have anything to do with it. Pisses me off.

      • Submitted by Brian Nelson on 07/20/2015 - 06:49 pm.

        Luke, this makes no sense.

        What exactly shows that the earth is in a cooling period? Second, moose are declining across their range with or without wolves. The wolf population in 2003 was 3000 wolves and it has fallen to 2400. You will have to do better than this.

        • Submitted by Luke Zoske on 07/23/2015 - 11:17 pm.

          Brian Nelson

          There are other reason for moose decline in areas where there are less wolves, and it’s not because of warm weather. First off the earth is in a cooling period, we’ve seen that since the year 1998. NASA has done a study for the last 36 years using there Remote Sensing Systems, what they found was, that the earth has warmed .36 degrees since 1979, but since 1998 the earth has cooled in temperature. Now the earth is 4.6 billion years old, so we can’t be sure what the weather was like throughout that time period, but we do know was that we’ve been cooling since ’98. One prime example of this, is 2013 arctic summer, where we saw a 33% increase in thickness, and land mass in ice.

          Al Gore was wrong when he said that we would be ice free in 7 years, if I’m not mistaken he said that speech in 2007, so since he said his little speech we’ve only seen an increase in ice and cold weather.

          My point is that moose are being killed by automobile accidents, cold weather, predation, not only predation of wolves, cougars, and black bears, but humans as well. Now what your not understanding is that the predator- prey ratio has to be in check, and in Minnesota it’s not. It doesn’t matter if the wolf population decreased by 600 in 10 years, (because the 2,400 wolf population that your talking about was the study done in 2013) 2 years later, today the population has increased because of hunting restrictions, because of the bunny lovers. Now in Minnesota your only allowed to kill in self defense.

          You can’t have a population of predator that more than its prey. The wolf population of “2,400” is too high for moose population that is only 1000 to 1500 more. Moose reproduce at a much slower rate than wolves do, moose only have 1-2 calves, wolves on the other hand have half a dozen or more pups. So do you see where I’m going with this.

          Now don’t get me wrong, I love living with wolves, but something needs to be done, and when the population starts to go down, not only with moose, but anything, the global warming fanatics try to blame people who drive big trucks, give me a break. Them and the liberal media machine are so oblivious and so out of touch with reality that it’s sickening

  2. Submitted by Joe Smithers on 07/13/2015 - 11:35 am.

    biologist

    I love how she describes herself as a biologist but works as a lawyer. I think the more accurate term for her is that she is a lawyer.

  3. Submitted by Brian Nelson on 07/13/2015 - 02:42 pm.

    Joe, you always go for oversimplification…

    To what extent is a stressed population of moose more susceptible to predation? Are parasites a factor in Isle Royale’s moose population? Why did Isle Royale’s population of moose peak at around 2500 in the 1990’s when there were still plenty of wolves? Why are moose declining in areas where there are no wolves? Why are moose expanding into areas that further north that were once dominated by caribou?

    • Submitted by joe smith on 07/13/2015 - 04:56 pm.

      By the way, where is the area on the Arrowhead that there are no wolves and the moose population is dropping? We are talking about Mn moose here are we not?

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 07/13/2015 - 04:53 pm.

    The wolf population has ranged from 9-43 in the 50 yrs of study, the moose population has been from 500- 2,500. The moose population peaks when the wolf population plummets. Wolf eat moose, more wolves= more moose eaten, I guess that is pretty simple. It just doesn’t fit with the global warming group think so folks get defensive.

    • Submitted by Brian Nelson on 07/13/2015 - 08:37 pm.

      Again oversimplification.

      And I notice that you get pretty defensive when anyone questions your anti-wolf ideology. Now, the ups and downs at Isle Royale look pretty normal and sustainable–while the wolves were able to sustain themselves. But, there were 2500 moose at one point with a fair number of wolves and the moose appeared to have weathered the wolf population spike from 1969 to 1979. But, you dodged the earlier questions. Primarily, are parasite stressing NE MN’s moose population and thus making them more susceptible to predation? Are those same parasites present on Isle Royale? Why are moose disappearing in other areas at the same latitude where wolves are absent?

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