Minnesota’s declining moose population in northern Minnesota was estimated at 4,350 animals last year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has announced.
While higher than the previous year’s count of 2,760 moose, it is thought that the low 2012 number was due to poor conditions for the aerial surveys, and not actual population size. The 2011 population was estimated at 4,230 animals.
“The higher estimate this winter likely is related to ideal survey conditions rather than any actual increase in the population,” said Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the DNR. “This year’s heavy snows across northeastern Minnesota made it comparatively easy to spot dark-bodied moose against an unbroken background of white.”
The number is not cause for much celebration among moose-lovers, though. It is still about half the just seven years ago. The DNR said its ongoing tracking of moose mortality using radio-collars indicates the population is still shrinking.
The DNR study of moose uses radio collars and GPS to track animals and alert researchers when they have died. This lets scientists get to the bodies quickly, before scavengers or decay begins, to try to find answers to why the animal died.
The effort has already found a high mortality rate: 21 percent among adult moose and 74 percent for calves in the first year of the studies.
Now, the researchers are flying over the forests and wetlands looking for more moose to collar. The project began February 6th and is seeking to collar an additional 52 animals, according to Minnesota Public Radio News.
“We have three years that we are trying to maintain our sample size of 100 animals, but with the life of the collars we’re really looking at a 7-8 year project,” said Michelle Carstensen, supervisor of the DNR’s Wildlife Health Program, told WDIO News. “Through that time we’re going to gain a lot more understanding of the causes of mortality and capture year- to-year variation.”
The collaring this winter will seek to replace the 22 adult moose that died during last year’s study.