The Mysterious Moose Meltdown In Minnesota

A few weeks ago one of the local Twin Cities TV news stations was promoting a special feature that teased, among other things, “What is happening to the moose in Northern Minnesota?”   I had meant to watch it live…but somehow put it out of my mind.   Now another news outlet has recently printed an article bemoaning the same happening.   Fact is, there is a serious die-off of moose in northwestern Minnesota and I think for the most part sportsmen (except for those who live in the upper Midwest) have been largely unaware of this devastating occurrence.

It seems that while we have been enjoying slightly warmer than average temperatures the past couple decades this climatic effect has proven to be detrimental to our natural world in several different ways.   I urge you to spend five minutes and watch the video piece on the TV news link shown above.   It does a good job laying out the possible consequences of how increased temperature has affected the environment and what possible changes could be in store for the outdoors in the future.

Now understand that I am not a staunch believer in global warming and the political fire-storm associated with that theory, but I am a believer in trends and how the weather seems to get into ruts at times.   Indeed, this blog has already chronicled how the warm temps of this past winter have adversely influenced many of the activities us northern folks wish to enjoy during the wintertime.   Moreover, unusually warm winters have seemed to be occurring on a much more frequent basis over the past few years.   Still, you can’t gauge climatic evolution on just a few decades of temperature data or on short-term trends…you need centuries-long data to really tell the tale.

But be that as it may, the point remains we are losing moose in northern Minnesota.   A herd that was healthy and once large in the 80s (population est. around 4,000 animals) is now down to about 250 or less animals remaining.   Experts tell us that there is no one logical answer for this population decrease…but temperatures on the increase are certainly a major culprit.   It appears when the temperature gets above 67 degrees Fahrenheit that is the point when these animals start getting more stressed from heat exhaustion.   It also increases the parasitic activity in their brains which causes the animals to “lose their minds” and forget about food.

The bottom line seems to be that northwestern Minnesota is no longer being viewed as hospitable for moose to inhabit.   What a shame!   The Minnesota DNR, in fact, concedes that within the next two decades the once thriving population of moose in Minnesota’s Northwest could actually completely disappear…and not much is able to be done to prevent that prediction.   It’s also pertinent to point out that about six years ago moose research in this area took a big hit when Minnesota’s main moose researcher and a conservation officer pilot died in an airplane crash while studying the area.   Visit their memorial page here.   Not that the two situations go completely hand in hand, but in some ways it almost seems their deaths were a major set-back to achieving any hope for change with the moose population currently in trouble.

Fortunately, there is some brighter news to report for the moose in a different part of Minnesota.   Currently there are two distinctly different herds of moose in northern Minnesota and the population found in the arrowhead region (north of Duluth close to Lake Superior) does not seem to be experiencing the same devastating troubles…or at least not to the same extent.

You know, even though I have never gone moose hunting nor have I had a passion to someday trek after this majestic animal…there’s a certain iconic like mystique about being “up-north” and being in “moose country.”   It’s certainly sad to hear this animal is having its challenges just to survive…and maybe with a little luck the outlook for their survival will begin to improve.   Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.