Happy ending unlikely for northwest moose story
- Happy ending unlikely for northwest moose story
Published Sunday, April 01, 2007
Brad Dokken is outdoors editor for the Herald. He writes and edits the
outdoors and usually has a column for Sunday's outdoor section.
Two of us were traveling on state Highway 32 north of Thief River
Falls recently when the conversation turned to moose, a species that's
all but disappeared from the northwestern Minnesota landscape over the
past few years.
I was trying to remember the last time I'd seen a moose in
northwestern Minnesota. It used to be common to see them near
Karlstad, Minn., where the city's water tower still bears the painting
of a moose, or on this stretch of Highway 32 north of Thief River.
The last moose encounter I could recall occurred on a dark, rainy
night about five years ago, when I nearly hit one near the junction of
32 and Marshall County Road 7, the road to Agassiz National Wildlife
The encounter only lasted a few seconds, but I'll never forget the
sense of relief when the adrenaline rush subsided. Not only for the
obvious reasons hitting the animal wouldn't have been good for me or
my truck but because moose numbers already were on the skids.
I certainly didn't want to add to the problem.
The timing of last week's moose conversation was ironic, because just
a couple of days later, the Department of Natural Resources issued a
news release that the moose population in northwestern Minnesota had
dipped to a meager 84 animals.
By comparison, an estimated 4,000 moose roamed the northwestern part
of the state in the early 1980s.
The decline is especially sad because it appears to be beyond our
control. It's not like moose were overhunted, mismanaged or victims of
extensive predation from gray wolves.
The problem goes deeper than that.
Northwestern Minnesota lies at the southern end of traditional moose
range, and a documented increase in temperatures, coupled with
parasites such as brain worm and liver flukes, apparently has stressed
populations to the breaking point.
And no management actions, the research concluded, can reverse the trend.
In the past 40 years, weather data at Norris Camp in Beltrami Island
State Forest has documented an average rise of 12 degrees in winter
temperatures and 4 degrees in summer. The growing season also
lengthened by about 39 days. That means moose have to expend more
energy to stay cool.
Last week's DNR report said moose populations in northwestern
Minnesota now are so low it's difficult to even come up with an
accurate estimate. Barring some drastic turnaround nobody is
predicting, it's realistic to expect the decline will continue, to the
point where moose in northwestern Minnesota will be spoken of in the
past tense in just a few years.
Sadly, that's almost the case already.
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