Give moose a fighting chance

As people stopped by the office to pick up a copy of the October 5, 2013 News-Herald, they were immediately drawn to the sad headline of Reporter Brian Larsen’s article Moose calves dying at higher rate than expected. Almost everyone who picked up a paper that week asked, “Why?”

I think each of us in the office struggled to answer this question, because unfortunately the answer is not yet clear. The Minnesota Department of Resources and a number of scientific partners are still studying the puzzle of the rapidly declining moose population. Many people have theories, but the research has not found one good, solid, reason why moose—moose calves in particular—are dying in such alarming numbers.

It is estimated that the moose population in northeastern Minnesota has dropped from 8,840 in 2006 to 2,760 in 2013.

There are some who take the researchers to task for the moose calf mortality. Of the 49 newborn moose that were collared, 11 are believed to have died because of the trauma of being collared. The DNR and its partners admit that is very disturbing and is unacceptable. However, citing the valuable data collected by collaring the young moose, the DNR does not plan to cease collaring moose calves. They will, however, change some of the collaring procedures that will hopefully increase the success of monitoring calves.

Some people—and wildlife biologists—cite loss of habitat, global warming, winter ticks, mosquitoes and brain worm—as things that could possibly be causing the declining population.

What I find disturbing is the number of calves that are believed to have been killed by bear and wolves. Brian Larsen’s article tells us that the number of calves eaten by wolves or bears totaled 16. Researchers hedge a bit. Predators ate the calves, but the scientists say they are not sure what killed them.

Although I am disturbed by this data, I’m not surprised. Comparing the birth rate of wolves—three to six pups in each litter—to the one or two calves born to a moose cow—it’s hard not to think that moose are outnumbered. And the moose has many predators—the wolf none.

Seeing a National Geographic video of six wolves attacking a moose cow and its calf in Alaska highlights the imbalance. The heartwrenching video documents the cow’s struggle to defend her calf. For about 10 minutes the cow sloshes around a shallow pond, trying to stave off the wolves, which take turns attacking. The cow nearly tramples her baby in her desperate battle to defend it. She eventually loses the fight and her calf becomes a meal for the wolves.

I know it’s the cycle of life. I know this dance of death takes place all over the world. I’ve seen many other National Geographic videos of lions and antelope and polar bears and seals. It’s a sad fact of life that animals eat other animals to survive.

I am just worried that things are too out of kilter between the wolves and the moose.

I’m not saying we should try to do away with the wolves, as people tried to do in the 1950s and ’60s. It is horrible that man hunted the wolf to near extinction. We need federal and state programs to prevent that from ever happening again. But I think it is time to acknowledge that the wolf recovery is successful— perhaps too successful. I am reluctantly glad that the DNR has agreed to hold a limited wolf hunt again this year.

An artist friend, who recently shared some amazing photos of wolf pups, summed up my thoughts well, calling them “beautiful troublemakers.”

Photo by David R. Johnson ~ One of Cook County's beautiful troublemakers.

Photo by David R. Johnson ~
One of Cook County’s beautiful troublemakers.

Perhaps there are too many wolves when they are killing one another as they did at the Pincushion Mountain trail system in Grand Marais in January 2010. Or attacking a young camper sitting on the lakeshore in Grand Rapids this summer. Or entering people’s barns to kill livestock, as we just reported in the October 12 article Wolf attack kills pony in Lake County.

I know many have a problem with killing an animal that is not going to end up on the dinner table. Most of the time I share that point of view. But to preserve our moose population in this perfect storm of warming temperatures, the invasion of white-tailed deer bringing brain worm and possible disease from mosquitoes, it doesn’t seem that our moose have a fighting chance.

Perhaps the cycle of life means mankind taking a few of these beautiful troublemakers out of the equation.

Nature has no principles. She makes no distinction between good and evil.

Anatole France

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One response to “Give moose a fighting chance

  • Wayne D.

    An article filled with common sense. Look how fast Wisconsin hunters have met their wolf hunt quota in the NE part of their state this year. I think the estimates for wolf numbers are grossly inaccurate in Wis. and Minnesota.

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