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 Concerns Over Moose Population

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UMD Leads Minnesota's Largest Moose Study

Cow moose on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation after being collared in January 2011.
Amanda McGraw, Integrated Bio-Science graduate student, and Ron Moen, biologist at NRRI with tranquilized bull moose near Windy Lake in northeast Minnesota.

The largest moose research project ever conducted in Minnesota has begun. Moose have been fitted with radio collars across the Arrowhead of northeast Minnesota and into Ontario. UMD biologist Ron Moen at the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) is playing a key role in the project.

Moose in the northwestern half of the state had all but disappeared in the 1990s, and there was a concern about a similar population decline in northeastern Minnesota. Although aerial surveys of moose in the northeast seemed to indicate a stable population, other signs were troubling.

A study by Mark Lenarz, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, found mortality rates much higher than expected in adult moose. Some of these moose died in the summer even though they were in good physical condition. The cause of death could not be explained for many of these moose mortalities.

“We needed a way to keep track of moose to understand why this might be happening,” said Moen. “It just wasn’t possible to fly over radio collared moose for several hours every day.”

The solution was to deploy GPS satellite collars on moose that record locations every 20 minutes, store activity and temperature data, and have a mortality sensor to indicate if an animal has died. Most importantly, the collars send location information by satellite daily.

In January, 63 moose were tranquilized from a helicopter. A GPS satellite collar was fitted on each moose, blood was collected, pellet and hair samples taken, and winter ticks were collected, if present. Body fat was measured on some moose with an ultrasound machine. After about 30 minutes the tranquilizer was reversed and the moose wandered off.

The collared moose are on public and private land, in protected areas and managed forests, and in warm and cold parts of Minnesota. Moose in Voyageurs National Park or Quetico Provincial Park have different forage available to them, compared to moose in county, state, and federal forests. Moose in Grand Portage and along the Gunflint Trail have cooler summer temperatures than moose near International Falls.

Map of locations of collared moose

“Each collar collects GPS location, activity, and temperature data at the same time,” Moen explained. “By synthesizing data, we will identify common characteristics of moose home ranges. We’ll know what habitats they need to survive, the availability of food, cover, and water, and how they respond to very hot and very cold temperatures. And when moose die, we’ll try to get to the carcass within 24 hours for our DNR cooperators.”

The overall project consists of four separate projects with a common research methodology (see map). The Voyageurs National Park project is funded by the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. The Grand Portage project is funded by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund supports the project from Whyte to Grand Marais, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources supports the project in Quetico Provincial Park.

Research cooperators working with UMD include the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 1854 Treaty Authority, Grand Portage Indian Reservation, and the Fond du Lac Band Resource Management Division. For more information visit www.nrri.umn.edu/moose.

Written by Ron Moen, NRRI.
Photos taken by Ron Moen.
Homepage thumbnail photo from NRRI website, photo taken by P. Takash on Nina-Moose River, BWCA, St. Louis County, MN on June 20, 2009.

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