Here’s something you have less of a chance seeing now than a year ago: moose in Minnesota.
Today, the Department of Natural Resources canceled the Minnesota moose hunt after an aerial survey showed a dramatic drop in the moose population.
The survey showed a population decline of 35 percent in the past year, and 52 percent in the last two years.
“This is further and definitive evidence the population is not healthy. It reaffirms the conservation community’s need to better understand why this iconic species of the north is disappearing from our state,” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said in a news release.
It’s clear researchers and scientists don’t understand it and didn’t last spring when they said a limited moose hunt wouldn’t make much difference.
“I don’t think it’ll matter at all,” Rolf Peterson, a researcher and chair of the state’s moose advisory committee told the Pioneer Press back then. The theory was that hunting isn’t what’s leading to the moose decline, but they don’t know what is.
Some people think it’s wolves. Others think it’s parasites from deer. Still others think it may have something to do with climate change. Moose don’t sweat and when the temperature reaches above 80, it’s tough on a moose.
It’s unclear, though, whether the lack of a hunting season will make any difference in restoring the moos population. Faced with a similar outlook a year ago, the DNR said it wouldn’t because only bulls are killed.
It’s not just Minnesota. Wyoming and Montana are seeing the same situation. They’re guessing the Yellowstone fires in 1988 had something to do with it.
But more people are beginning to think most of the possibilities point back to a warming state. According to the National Wildlife Federation:
Average winter temperatures in northwestern Minnesota have climbed about 12 degrees F during the past 40 years, and average summer temperatures have increased 4 degrees F. Researchers believe the warmer temperatures have stressed the moose, making them more vulnerable to parasites spread by a deer herd that has been booming, primarily because of a decade of mild winters. Those parasites–liver flukes and brain worms to which deer are less vulnerable–weaken moose and apparently contribute to chronic malnutrition. As a major cause of moose mortality, the parasites may explain the lower reproduction rates. “A variety of factors may be contributing to the decline, but ultimately I think the real driving force is the climate,” says Dennis Murray, a professor at Trent University in Ontario and main author of the moose study. “The climate change is tipping the balance.”
The puzzling thing is: It’s not happening in other places where the planet is warming. In Maine, for example, the moose aerial survey reported 76,000 moose in the state. That’s a huge number, though up until that state started surveying using helicopters, it was mostly an educated guess..
In Maine, moose are big business, so the response to the news the population is healthy has led to a predictable movement in the state to allow more of them to be killed.