Monday, March 14, 2022

Moose, Deer, Bears, Wolves and Us

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Wildlife, Nature, Sustainability, Science and Society.

Ed Hessler 

Deer are rare in northeast Minnesota. Outdoor columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Dennis Anderson wrote a primer (January 28, 2022) on that situation and its intersection with moose populations in the area. It was prompted by a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources big-game managers on-line chat in which he was a participant.

It was both an important and very well told story. I decided to post it in the event that it might have been missed. It is a wonderful example of the intersection of science and society and factors that are parts of contentious decision making.

First to the question of deer rarity. Anderson noted that deer hunters "killed fewer that 0.3 of an animal per square mile" in 2021, down significantly from a still meager 0.9 as recently as 2011." Moose numbers in the NE arrow of the state are currently "less than half what they were 15 years ago." Factors include warmer shorter warmer winters, Tick infestations. Wolves. Bears. Liver flukes. Bacterial infections."

And deer add a parasite to the mix, benign to them but not to moose: brainworm (24% of all deaths). Wolves add another: moose calf mortality (80% of all calf mortalities). And bears, 22%. If you are a deer hunter the answer is obvious: habitat management for deer which wouldn't benefit moose. Moose are a favorite among the general public but their numbers can only be increased by keeping deer numbers low with wolf management, another way of saying hunting. Politics enters this equation as well. Both the governor and lieutenant governor are against wolf hunting.

Much of Anderson's reporting is based on research by Dr. Seth Moore, director of biology and environment for the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who is highly respected. I close with some of his comments. First with respect to wolf management we are faced, he said, with "some difficult decisions. If you want to restore moose in the core moose range, some level of wolf management will be necessary." 

In research conducted during a period of regulated wolf hunts (2012 - 2014), the Lake Superior Band didn't allow wolf hunting. Moore was studying radio-collared moose during that period and reduced moose mortality followed..And when the Lake Superior Band authorized both spring and bear hunting, the rate of moose calf mortality declined. 

Commenting on the deer population goal-setting process, Anderson wrote, "Ostensibly," the webinar was about establishing northeast Minnesota deer-population goals. 

"But" it was "more emphatically about moose and how continued low deer numbers in the northeast can contribute to the big animal's possible resurgence, or at least stability, and how deer hunters, frustrated (though) they might be should get used to it."

This is a complicated story and the territory highly contested,  tinged with politics and multiple competing interests, what is left unsaid, etc. A reminder that you can't just do one thing without a string of events following, some consequences predictable, some not.

The MnDNR is scheduled to release a new wolf management plan this spring. MnDNR invited public comments on deer populations and goals. While the comment period has ended, you might be interested in the web page.

I add a link to a Minnesota Zoo game called "Moose Mission," which was designed for elementary school. The question is "Can you create a healthy habitat where moose thrive?" Note thrive; not just survive, two concepts worth discussing and teasing out what they mean and imply. There are links, too: "All About Moose" and "Moose Research."

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