Yesterday, the state of Minnesota released its long-researched management plan that it hopes will help save a northwoods ungulate that has long been an icon in the state — the Canadian moose.
A large portion of the plan is dedicated to controlling deer numbers in moose range.
Minnesota’s moose population is down to about 4,900 in the northeastern corner of the state (11 percent lower than last year, and far below the 8,000 animals just 10 years ago). Northwestern Minnesota’s smaller population center is nearly gone, down from thousands in the 1970s to less than 100 today. The reasons for the moose decline are not clearly understood. Climate change could be one cause. A trend to warmer summers and winters gives parasites more opportunity to weaken moose. Also, it is believed extremely hot summers cause moose to expend too much energy and thus enter winter with minimal reserves. Warmer winters also allow deer to thrive farther north, crowding out moose and increasing the risk of brain worm, which whitetails carry harmlessly, but is fatal to moose.
The plan, now open for public comment, focuses on limiting deer numbers in the primary moose range to 10 deer or less per square mile, (most DMUs in the three-county primary range are already at that level or lower) and researching the causes of the decline.
Also included is a ban on recreational deer feeding in primary moose range (baiting is already illegal in Minnesota).
Other measures include improving moose habitat, closing the moose season in any moose management zone where hunter success rates drop below 20 percent for three straight years, and funding research into the causes of moose mortality … including the effect of wolf and bear predation. The state has already reduced its resident, once-in-a-lifetime, bull-only hunting permits from 213 to 105 as the ratio of bulls to cows has dropped.
As a former resident of Minnesota’s moose country and a moose lover, I’ll be happy to do my part this fall when I return home for Minnesota’s gun season to hunt my beloved big woods whitetails.
And if I do get the chance to again bring home some Northwoods venison, I’ll raise a toast to those other monarchs of the North.