You have to love the long legged, adorably homely moose. Or at least what they represent. When you see a moose in its natural home, well, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore; you are in the pristine north woods. But something is going amiss up there in the wild.
Minnesota’s once plentiful icon has been on the decline for the last ten years and with no indication of the population stabilizing and the state’s DNR is fearful they could be at a point of no return. Moose were abundant in most of northern Minnesota, but they have been absent from much of the northwestern portion of the state for years, are now disappearing from the eastern ‘Arrowhead’ region and that has prompted a major investigation.
In a nutshell, the study provided several issues of concern. It was verified that the feeding habits of moose found that even if tasty forage was plentiful the moose had little appetite if the temperature rose above approximately 72 degrees Fahrenheit so climate change (leading to comprised nutrition) is one issue. Other factors are the deer herds moving north (due to warmer winters and opening of habitat by human residencies) and bringing with them a parasite known as brainworm, which has no effect on deer, but kills moose by way of the parasite itself or making them vulnerable to wolves. Wolves are common in northern Minnesota and certainly a factor in the moose population, taking a third of the moose within the study. That might lead one to believe it is indeed a wolf/moose issue. But taking down a healthy adult moose is no small task even for a pack of wolves and it was established by necropsies that half the moose taken by wolves were plagued by infection, tick infestations or brainworm. In short, the wolves were going their job taking sick moose. Unfortunately the numbers demonstrate that the majority of moose roaming northern Minnesota are in general poor health.
There are other factors of interest but the point being that Minnesota will have to make some difficult decisions if they wish to try and save their moose population. Some with regional economic implications such as closing planned mining operations, selling or not selling of timber and coming to terms with whether or not there can be deer in moose territories. An idea that already has northern deer hunters concerned. (It should be noted that a portion of the dollars hunter’s spend on registrations and licenses goes to habitat preservation and moose research.)
It will come down to how much the residents of Minnesota are willing to spend and/or give up to keep a healthy population of one of their favorite symbols of wild country in the northern woods. In simple terms the disappearance of moose in northern Minnesota might seem a sad but inevitable turn of the evolutionary clock, but their current situation tells us something a bit more concerning. Something is out of balance in the woods. And though ‘the woods’ seems a far ways from us here in towns, cities and urban areas, it is the foundation of our environment.
The moose situation in Minnesota (along with Maine and Vermont that are experiencing similar problems in their moose populations) is a miniature ecosystem of what is happening in our state and national parks and to a further extent the world, so at some point we will all be making the difficult decisions of how much our natural world is worth to us. What are we willing to give up? How much are we prepared to spend to keep a healthy environment and the wild places?
No longer is it presumed the earth is a never ending supply of resources and it is the responsibility of each of us to conserve and adjust before the scales tip too far from recovery. There is a way to live with earth; we just have to want to make the effort.