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.

Is It Really Safe Out There For Kids Anymore?

As a farm boy you quickly learned to appreciate and respect the outdoor lifestyle.   In most cases, growing up on the farm gave you few choices to do otherwise.   I can fondly remember at the ripe old age of 8 or 9 coming home…getting off the school bus…changing into my “work clothes”…and heading off to the woods.   Back then it was one of my nightly chores that dad had carefully laid out for me.   He milked cows…and it was MY RESPONSIBILITY to have the cows home for the evening milking session or else I would jeopardize my weekly allowance.

Now stop and think about it.   Here’s a young child trusted with his three dogs to go round up and chase home an entire herd of cattle, each of which weighed at least 10 times as much as I did at the time.   Obviously my dad trusted the docile nature of his cows…but he also trusted his young boy not to provoke the stock into doing something out of their character.

In most cases the journey back into the pasture would last no more than 1/2 mile or so…but it gave me an excuse to explore the outdoors as well as earn my first real income.   Most evenings it was pretty uneventful…in fact, in time the cows knew the routine so well that it was downright boring.   When the cows saw me and the dogs…they knew it was time to head back from the lush pasture where they had been grazing.

On one particular afternoon things suddenly changed in my world.   The boredom usually experienced walking the narrow cow-paths back home was quickly shattered when I came face to face with a red fox.   We starred at each other for what seemed like an eternity…but I’m sure in reality it was only a split second.   The fox darted in one direction and I remember darting in another direction.   Heck, at the time I thought it was a hungry wolf…and a kid my age had no right becoming the canine’s next meal.   I ran home only to exclaim to my father that I should no longer be chasing the cows home if there are hungry wolves out in the pasture.   Of course, this was his opportunity to explain to me that what I had seen was not a wolf…but merely a red fox.   He reassured me there were no wild animals on the farm looking to cause me any harm.

Okay, let’s fast forward life by over thirty years until today.   I still live on the same farm.   I no longer have to chase cattle for my father…those days ended quite some time ago.   Yet, in most regards it is the very same farm with the same pastures as it has always contained.   But indeed something is different today.

I now have a 9–year old stepson and lately I’ve been struggling with the question of should I let him go out in the pastures and woods alone as I did through most of my growing years.   Granted, I grew up on the farm and was probably a bit more savvy about the outdoors having been raised since birth in that environment…but that’s not what this concern is about.   At least not completely.

Yesterday, I took my stepson to one of my favorite hills way out yonder and helped him learn how to snow board.   As we were walking home he asked me if he could come out here alone sometime.   I said, “sure…I used to go all over this farm when I was your age.   Not a problem.”

So, today he went back to that hill alone while I worked in the office.   Chalk it up to being a concerned parent, I guess…but while he was gone I started to have second thoughts about letting this 80 pound child out in the woods alone with no dogs for distraction.   Was it wise for me to encourage him to do something I simply took for granted during my growing years?   Well, I’m still struggling a bit with that decision.

Here’s my main concern.   COYOTES!   Back in the days when I was a youngster there virtually were no wildlife dangers present on a farm in southern Minnesota.   I can’t exactly make that same claim today.   In fact, when I go outside nights right now I can sometimes hear packs of coyotes that must number well in excess of a dozen critters.   Truth is…these coyotes are killing young calves and small deer when the opportunity presents itself…so why not a young boy simply enjoying the snow with his new snow board?

The explosion of the coyote population is quite an interesting phenomenon.   Back when I was a young trapper cutting my teeth on learning how to make dirt hole sets…the thought of possibly catching a coyote (as opposed to a desired red fox) was simply not existent.   Today, that same trap-set would more likely render a coyote than Mr. Red.   Oh, how things have changed!

And, unfortunately, so has my attitude in allowing my young stepchild to go back in the woods alone.   As much as I would like him to have the same experience of living fearless on the farm…it’s a chance I just can’t take today.   Maybe I’m being overly cautious…certainly I’ve not heard of a widespread problem of coyotes attacking young children…but it will happen.   Sooner or later there will be a report of a coyote attack in this area.   That’s my prediction…as these vermin are getting more and more bold in their activities around people.   I certainly know it has happened in other parts of the country…so why not here?

Part of being a responsible outdoorsman and parent is anticipating and appreciating the potential dangers for a young child…and then taking steps necessary to avoid any potential problem.   My better judgment tells me that what I largely took for granted over 30 years ago cannot be viewed in the same light today.   The outdoors, in particular the critters that inhabit it, has changed…even though the farm where we still reside has much the same physical appearance as it has throughout my entire life.

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

Let’s Not Overreact…At Least For Now

I remember a time back in college (late 70s/early 80s) when being promiscuous with the opposite sex had its risks — gonorrhea, syphilis or a host of other sexually transmitted diseases, but the cost of such exposure usually meant a visit to the doctor and a prescribed course of antibiotics.   Certainly the risks were unpleasant, but the outcome was generally not deadly if dealt with properly by the victim.

Then sometime in the early 80s most of us started to hear about monkeys passing some scary disease to humans.   Suddenly, many responsible adults realized that having casual sex or even touching someone else’s blood could potentially have dire consequences.   The disease was HIV, or better known as “AIDS,” and the very thought of being exposed to this emerging disease changed the way most folks conducted our lives out of fear — and justifiably so.   Life could no longer be lived as it once was…unless you were willing to accept the risks that went along with sexual promiscuity or being careless with another person’s bodily substances (blood, urine, fecal matter).

In the beginning, it was the fear of the unknown about HIV.   What we knew was that it killed some people who were exposed.   We also knew the disease acted in different ways depending on the exposure.   Bottom line was that in one way or another…the newly discovered disease that emerged into our lives over a quarter century ago has changed the way each of us now live our lives today.

Now let’s look at some recent disease concerns that are spreading through sportsman ranks like wildfire these days.   First it was CWD (or Chronic Wasting Disease) and now we recently learned the first deer in Minnesota has been detected with Bovine Tuberculosis.   Let’s face it…when you take your deer into a registration station and it gets examined for disease in ways like never before…it makes you stop and think.   On one hand research and studies are an important and necessary function in wildlife management, so I accept this.   On the other hand, being a sportsman and living the same old careless lifestyle could have consequences…if meat isn’t cooked thoroughly or handled in the most aseptic manner.

First off, recent studies have shown that eating deer that has been properly handled in the field and in the kitchen represents a very minimal risk to the sportsman and their family.   This is true for both CWD and with Bovine TB found in deer.   Officials are quick to point out that Bovine TB is not a major health concern to the hunter who brings home meat from an infected animal, they just urge continued cooperation by sportsmen to track the spread of these diseases by allowing testing. 

The fact that only one out of hundreds of deer tested this past fall tested positive for Bovine TB should certainly be encouraging, at least to sportsmen.   Farmers and ranchers in Northern Minnesota, on the other hand, might feel more devastated because it could mean quarantined stock and a statewide ban on the export of livestock across state lines.   Moreover, if you’re a state official trying to eradicate the disease by eliminating the contaminated livestock herds…hearing that deer may also be spreading the disease beyond the farm-lot can’t come as encouraging news.   Still, everyone is trying to stay optimistic that Bovine TB can be controlled with the proper measures taken early by farmers, veterinarians and sportsmen in Minnesota.

So, within the past few months we now learn that Minnesota has joined Michigan, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico as states also fighting this respiratory disease.  Michigan, in fact, has already dealt with this TB outbreak for over a decade in their deer population so sportsmen can take some solace in the fact it’s been demonstrated that it can be managed and does not have to severely impact the way sportsmen enjoy the whitetail resource.

If you’re like me, it seems whenever a new disease is discovered or determined to be present in our wildlife population it somehow distracts from the innocence of the outdoor world we previously enjoyed.   I know for a fact it also scares many un-enlightened sportsmen who never take the time to learn that the diseases we hear about in our wildlife don’t have to disrupt the way you enjoy life as a hunter.

Much like we began to learn back in the 80’s…sex wasn’t without risk that could kill us.   Of course, taking precautions by being more selective on sex partners and using condoms to prevent the exchange of body fluids, our society learned to manage those disease risks associated with a changing world.   Same holds true now for sportsmen in an ever-changing world with CWD, Bovine TB, along with other wildlife-borne diseases, such as Tularemia.   By staying informed, acting rationally and taking the proper safeguards in meat handling, sportsmen can not only minimize any disease threats…but fortunately we have to change very little in how we enjoy those wildlife resources for the future to come.

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