BLANE KLEMEK OUTDOORS: The Minnesota moose population appears to be at risk
Plagued by parasites, disease, predators, harsh weather, habitat loss and shortages of preferred forage and needed minerals, moose in Minnesota appear to be a species in trouble. Most wildlife research biologists believe that a changing and warming climate is the primary reason for Minnesota’s declining moose population.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a moose in Minnesota. There was a time not all that long ago when well over 4,000 moose ranged throughout the northwest part of the state, in addition to twice that many in the northeast. Not so today, however. By all accounts, moose are very rare in northwestern Minnesota, but a few thousand still range in the northeast.
I actually see more moose in Colorado where I hunt deer and elk each fall than I do in Minnesota. In fact, moose are doing quite well in parts of the West. In the Colorado Rockies, the subspecies Shiras moose, which are smaller than Minnesota’s moose, are expanding their range.
Moose are the largest members of the deer family. And though Minnesota is home to this remarkable mammal, the northern-tier states are really at the southern boundary of the moose range. Here in North America, prime moose range exists throughout Canada and Alaska. Moose also inhabit the boreal forests of Eurasia.
Formidably large, bull moose can reach heights of over six-and-a-half feet at the shoulder and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Add an enormous head and impossibly huge and heavy antlers, moose command respect by humans and wild animals alike.
Except for cows with calves and during the fall rutting season, moose lead mostly solitary lives. The animals' coats may give a clue about their individualism. It is believed that since moose are not especially social deer, it had no need for pelage markings that could signal their presence to other moose. The coat of moose is dark brown to black.
On the other hand, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and caribou all have whitish rumps. Even other gregarious species of hoofed mammals such as bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope have white rump patches that serve as markings that are visible to their conspecifics.
The light-colored rumps of all these social ruminants serve an important function: communication. Those white rump patches help the animals remain in contact with one another or, as in the white-tailed deer's case when their tails are raised, as signals to other deer that danger may be present. It stands to reason, therefore, that the unsociable moose simply had no reason for such markings and so evolved without rump patches.
For such immense size, moose are well adapted to the habitats they prefer. Often found in wet environments like wooded swamps and bogs, their bodies are perfectly suited for such conditions. Long and powerful legs help them negotiate difficult terrain, snow, muck and water. Large hooves and dewclaws assist in solid footing. And though appearing bulky, moose can navigate easily through dense brush and timber.
Even their heads, snouts and lips are specially designed. Moose feed on aquatic plants, many of which are completely underwater. Having long noses provide the means to reach submerged forage while nimble lips help to pluck the delicacies from where they're rooted.
Well known are the amorous and aggressive behaviors of rutting bull moose. When the mating season commences in September and ends in mid to late October, dominant bulls seek receptive females while calling in loud and guttural "ee-yhoo" vocalizations as they search.
Indeed, moose are fascinating animals. Plagued by parasites, disease, predators, harsh weather, habitat loss and shortages of preferred forage and needed minerals, moose in Minnesota appear to be a species in trouble. Most wildlife research biologists believe that a changing and warming climate is the primary reason for Minnesota’s declining moose population.
Still, it was just last week when I received a trail camera photo of a moose near the city of Karlstad. This area of northwestern Minnesota was once teeming with moose. In fact, the town’s water tower still has an image of a bull moose painted on it. And up until a few years ago, a sign alongside U.S. Highway 59 on the south end of the city read: “Moose Capital of the North.”
Perhaps with continued research, habitat management, and time, maybe moose populations will rebound in northwest Minnesota. Until then, the last stronghold of Minnesota’s moose appears to be in the Arrowhead Region of the state, as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.